Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

Because a collection of Ellison's short stories has not yet been published, these works have received very little critical attention in comparison to the large body of criticism that has grown up around his novel Invisible Man. For years the stories were difficult to find; they appeared in small magazines and few were anthologized. Consequently, criticism of "King of the Bingo Game'' tends to focus more on the story's relationship to Invisible Man than on the story's position in Ellison's short story oeuvre.

As a precursor to Invisible Man, however, ''King of the Bingo Game'' demands attention. The Bingo King, like the protagonist of Ellison's novel, remains unnamed. He is alienated from his surroundings, and he combines the existential anxieties of the traditional modernist hero with the specific experiences of blacks in America, experiences which only heighten his alienation. Leonard J. Deutsch asserts that the story ''seems a rehearsal for Invisible Man in that it features a nameless character who, despite the absurdity of his situation, tries desperately to manipulate his fate and forge his own identity."

Like James Baldwin and unlike Richard Wright, Ellison claimed a place for himself not as a black American writer, but simply as a writer. Like both of those writers, he examined the plight of the African American in a country that was hostile to his very existence. For Ellison, this hostility serves to deepen the already profound difficulties all people have in establishing an identity. Yet Ellison also felt that the black American experience endowed writers with a special perspective from which to view the historical developments of the century. Ellison discussed this feeling with author John Hersey during an interview presented in Ralph Ellison: A...

(The entire section is 739 words.)