Ralph Ellison's "King of the Bingo Game" was first published in the literary journal Tomorrow in November, 1944. The story is customarily examined as a prototype for Ellison's novel, Invisible Man, but the work was intended to stand on its own. The theme of alienation has been treated by many authors, but in ''King of the Bingo Game," Ellison examines the specific alienation felt by blacks in the United States. The protagonist of the story, the Bingo King, is alone in the world and his isolation is further highlighted by the potential death of his wife, Laura, who is seriously ill.
Structurally, the story is complex, combining harsh realism with a dreamy surrealism in a way that approximates the mind of the Bingo King. The story also provides an interesting examination of a segment of the American population often ignored: the working-class blacks of the day who were new to urban life. The Bingo King is not an idealized character; Ellison gives him characteristics such as a backwoods cluelessness and inner yearnings he has trouble understanding and articulating. The story's conflict centers around one of the oldest themes in literature: a person's helplessness before the hand of fate and the individual's irrepressible desire to overcome that helplessness. In "King of the Bingo Game" Ellison provides an examination of this relationship with fate, and more specifically, a black man's confrontation with fate.