Ralph Ellison’s Melodic Journey Of “Living With Music”

Ellison’s Craft: Mastering the Art of Indirect Communication

Famous African-American author Ralph Ellison once said that “[Richard] Wright failed to grasp the function of artistically induced catharsis – which suggests that he also failed to understand the Afro-American custom of shouting in church (a form of ritual catharsis), or its power to cleanse the mind and redeem and rededicate the individual to forms of ideal action” (Doane 162). Ellison always had strong opinions about other authors’ techniques, and he learned from them in order to develop his own approach to writing. Many authors utilize an explicit style of writing rather than allowing the audience to make inferences based on implications. In his short story, “King of the Bingo Game,” Ralph Ellison strays from this explicit style and engages in the art of implying more than what is stated explicitly in order to express what he truly felt as an African-American man, rather than saying what African-Americans were “supposed to feel” and/or were encouraged to feel at the time.

Unveiling Layers: A Deep Dive into “King of the Bingo Game”

In “King of the Bingo Game,” the protagonist sits in a movie theater awaiting a bingo game. He seems somewhat delirious as the narrator describes his thoughts and surroundings. The protagonist takes “a deep seller” of “cold rye whiskey” (Ellison 125-126) and continues to go in and out of a dream state. The story initially strikes the reader as merely a realistic recounting of the Black experience in mid-20th century America. The protagonist in ‘King of the Bingo Game’ is black, from the South, unnamed, broke, hungry, unemployed, and burdened by his wife’s illness and his recurring nightmares. The specific circumstance is a bingo game in a Depression-era movie theater, one that is run by white people (the emcee and the policemen). The man wins the bingo game and has a chance to spin the wheel of fortune for the jackpot, but, already confused by anxiety and whiskey, he is surprised and frightened to be on stage. When he continues to push the button that controls the wheel and refuses to give it up, the remote control is simply taken away from him by two white men in uniform, and something lands “hard against his head.”

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Symbols and Irony: Unraveling the Underlying Themes

Although the wheel stops at the winning double-zero, the last paragraph of the story suggests that he has won nothing. Ellison writes at the end of the story that “he would receive what all winners received…but…he only felt the dull pain exploding in his skull, and he knew even as it slipped out of him that his luck had run out on the stage” (Ellison 136). The last scene paints a bleak picture of a harsh social reality, and yet readers sense that the story has more to offer than a mere realistic depiction of social ills. Ellison denounced radical writers who believed that social criticism was more important than literary technique. Ellison himself, a radical critic of society, argued that black writers should employ the experimental style of modernists to produce works that addressed social and political reality on more than one level of writing. Ellison sought to recreate the African-American experience with characters who, even when they too fall victim to society, are equipped with consciousness and imagination that lift them beyond any stereotypes.

Techniques of Storytelling: An Analysis of Ellison’s Approach

Ellison achieves this with several notable methods. First, his story is full of irony. Often, readers fail to discover irony upon first reading. However, by the end of ‘King of the Bingo Game,” the audience can clearly see some of the incongruencies in the story. While the protagonist’s original strategy was to give the wheel “a short quick twirl” (Ellison 129) make it stop at double zero and in turn win enough money to cure of all his problems, he actually tries to keep it running forever. When he is forced to let go of the button, the wheel stops, incredibly, at double zero. But, ironically, the winner gets nothing; he is hit on the head and dragged off the stage. Even if he had won the jackpot, it would have been of somewhat little use, considering it was only a total of $36.90. That, too, is part of the irony of the story. Even the use of the word “King” in the title is ironic. A bingo game is a small realm for a king. This king’s rule lasted only a few minutes, and his fall from power was complete. In the end, he, like the members of the audience, is just another one of the “poor, nameless bastards” (Ellison 133).

Deconstructing the Structure: Understanding the Multi-layered Narrative

Furthermore, the structure of “King of the Bingo Game” helps Ellison create more than one level of writing. The story is organized into two scenes, the first of which introduces the second. The first scene shows the man in the theater audience, watching a movie he has seen three times before. He is paying more attention to the people eating and drinking around him than to the movie, and finally, he checks his cards as the numbers are called. The second scene shows the man on the stage attempting to win the jackpot. As the action develops, the protagonist gets carried away by the power he attributes to the wheel and cannot let go of the button that controls it until he is wrestled to the floor and finally hit over the head. Within this two-scene structure, “King of the Bingo Game” has subtle structural elements that contribute significantly to the meaning of the story. For example, in the beginning, the main character watches his favorite scene in the movie for the fourth time, a scene in which a woman bound on a bed is rescued. The melodramatic quality of the rescue foreshadows his equally unrealistic scheme for rescuing Laura, who is coincidentally bound to a bed by her illness. Within this small scene, readers get a description of “the hero stealthily entering a dark room and sending the beam of a flashlight along a wall of bookcases” (Ellison 124) in the film that is paralleled with “the white beam filtered from the projection room above the balcony” (Ellison 124) in the movie theater.

Beyond the Surface: Delving into Symbolism and Tone

Another structural device is the use of two train scenes, one near the beginning and the other near the end of the story. These scenes take on the view of a man always on the run from threatening forces and emphasize his need to seize control of his fate. Such structural details tie different parts of the story together and help them highlight the common theme. These scenes provide a transition from the starkly realistic and harsh sociological condition in the first to a level of dream consciousness in the second. Having recognized that Ellison has transitioned from the starkly realistic to the symbolic/metaphoric sphere, readers can examine allusions and symbols that contribute to the meaning of the story.

Arguably the most significant symbol in ‘King of the Bingo Game’ is the wheel of fortune, with its double zero and the attached cord and buttons. When the man first goes onto the stage, he considers the spinning of the wheel to be a ritual, which is typically a symbolic act. As the story progresses, the wheel becomes much more than a device to decide whether the man will win the grand prize. It becomes a means of controlling his fate, and it holds the godlike power of deciding whether Laura will live or die. Anyone who controls the wheel controls the future. That is why the man cries excitedly, “This is God” (Ellison 130). Clearly, he associates the wheel with some type of supernatural or magical power. This is a perfect example of how Ellison utilizes indirect communication in his work. Although it is never explicitly stated that the wheel controls his fate, readers can make that conclusion based on the protagonist’s obsession with it. This adds a level of intensity and depth to the story and, in turn, showcases one of Ellison’s great strengths.

Another symbol in the story that works as an example of indirect communication is the double zero, an ambiguous symbol that lies within the symbol of the wheel. It can mean a jackpot, or it can mean absolutely nothing. In the case of the protagonist, it ends up equating to nothing as he is beaten down and left with no winnings at the end of the story. The two trains mentioned in the story are also symbols of the protagonist’s fantasy that he can escape from poverty, illness, and insignificance through some magical solution that gives him control over his destiny. Further, the main character is never named: by standing for nobody, he is a symbol of everybody. He is a symbol of the frustration of blacks in a white-dominated world or a symbol of the frustrations and delusions of all humankind. The Wheel of Life, Fate, or Fortune is rigged in modern society: the crowd is made up of poor blacks seeking a lucky break; the emcee running the game is white and calls the protagonist “boy” (as does the policeman at the end); and in his moment of dramatic insight, the protagonist forgets his slave name which symbolizes the humiliation and lack of self-respect that has been forced upon African-Americans. Ellison combines the existential overtones of achieving identity through personal choice and assertion and the chant-like rhythm of an older tradition in which tribal heroes earn the names by which they are known. The moment of truth cannot last, however, and with the approach of the policemen, the magic circle of the bingo wheel gives way to his own frantic circling on stage at the end of the cord: a grotesque tie to the fateful wheel that ends with a blow on the head, and with the ironic double-zero of a win which will not be honored.


The tone is the author’s attitude toward the events and characters in the story or, in some circumstances, toward the readers. The editors of the Norton Anthology describe Ellison’s work as “tragic and comic in the same breath, folkloric yet modern, sordidly real and hallucinatory or surreal, preoccupied with existential questions of individual identity at the same time that it describes the dilemmas of a racist society.” Ellison parallels the pluralism of Contemporary Literature – the great range of styles used by authors to express human experience – with a heavy emphasis on irony and ambiguity in his own work, which enables him to create meaning on more than one level simultaneously. As Ellison learned during his career as a writer, an author can use indirect communication to create a work that suggests one meaning on a literal level and an entirely different meaning hidden in its depths by employing shifts of tone, symbolic organization, a buried thematic structure and oblique references to a common core of cultural values.

Works Cited

  1. Ellison, Ralph. “King of the Bingo Game.” In “Flying Home and Other Stories,” Random House, 1996. .
  2. Callahan, John F. “The Historical Frequencies of Ralph Ellison.” In “The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Ellison,” edited by Ross Posnock, Cambridge University Press, 2005, pp. 15-35.
  3. Doane, Janice. “Ralph Ellison: An Intertextual Dialogue.” Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 39, no. 3-4, 1993, pp. 595-615.
  4. Warren, Kenneth W. “Ralph Ellison in Progress: The Making and Unmaking of One Writer’s Career.” Journal of American Studies, vol. 47, no. 1, 2013, pp. 19-39.
  5. Abrams, M. H. “A Glossary of Literary Terms.” 11th ed., Cengage Learning, 2014.
  6. Tracy, Steven C. “Ralph Ellison’s Blues and the Poetic Spirit.” In “Ralph Ellison and the Politics of the Novel,” Lexington Books, 2003, pp. 93-116.

Ethics In Criminal Justice For Justice And Equality

Justice for all was something we all grew up in America believing and assuming to be true. However, that may not be true anymore. Diversity in judges is still a problem in America; the civil justice system is extremely backed up on cases to give each the attention they need and deserve; State and Federal Governments need to expand on services to help those in need.

Challenges in Judicial Diversity

Americans can have subconscious negative feelings towards someone of a different race. 2009 study found that only 10% of State Supreme Court Judges are non-white, according to usnews.com. Black and Latino candidates have a hard time winning elections and an even harder time winning reelections. Since 2000, white judges have had a 90% reelection rate, African Americans have had an 80%, and Latinos only have a 67% reelection rate.

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Laws have not changed fast enough to match the need of our growing and changing culture. The justice system is such long and can cost thousands of dollars that it is no longer an effective way to help in legal matters. The system has become so dysfunctional that it’s almost impossible for people to rely on it to solve disputes. Courts are backed up with thousands of cases, and lawsuits take years and cost so much money, drain people psychologically, and produce outcomes not predicted.

Expanding Services for Equal Justice

State and Federal policymakers should shift focus from drug abuse punishments and address substance abuse. Also, reduce racial and ethnic disparities in jails and prisons. We need to provide equal access to justice with expansions of resources in the court system, short-term court costs available, and long-term treatment and job placement services. Community-based treatment facilities are more widely available in areas where some people can’t afford to travel far for treatment.

Crime rates in America, especially with youth crime rates, have drastically spiked. There have been more violent murders, school shootings, and serial snipers. The only thing they have done is hire more police officers. New York City has 61,000, which is approximately 3 billion dollars a year in salaries. They have thrown money at the problem instead of trying to fix it.

Ensuring Fair Trials and Outcomes

The judicial process should be to provide all the evidence prevalent to the crime, including physical evidence, witness statements, and criminal history. This all happened to have a fair verdict could be given by the judge or jury. The intent was never to wrongfully convict an innocent party or to acquit one who is guilty.

This is often not the outcome in today’s courtrooms. Certain personality types, educational backgrounds, races, and other factors could either help a prosecutor or defendant gain an advantage.

Challenges to the Ideal of Justice for All

Our Pledge of Allegiance has the words “And Justice for All,” so there are people who believe that since it is stated in this that it must be true. There are also people who believe in the justice system and think that they do all that they can to help everyone. These people are the ones who usually have not had to deal with the justice system or discrimination before.

We are supposed to be the land of the free, and all be treated equally no matter our background. There is a lack of diversity among our judges when it comes to race. Our Justice System is incredibly flawed, and our laws have not caught up with our changing culture. There has been a huge spike in our violent crime rate in the past ten years, and our government has not shown any steps on how to improve this matter. Our courtrooms can be biased and not fair for all parties involved. Until our higher-ups in our government come together and make improvements to policies and laws, there will continue to be a problem with Justice for All in America.

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