The Bingo Caller
The bingo caller is the man who calls out the bingo numbers and who acts as the master of ceremonies. When the Bingo King wins the chance to spin the wheel, the caller introduces him and makes fun of his rural upbringing. At first the caller is amused by the King’s refusal to relinquish the button, but then he gets angry at the King’s demand to remain in control. The caller represents the low-level forces of authority: he does not make the rules, but he must enforce them.
The Bingo King
The Bingo King, the protagonist of the story, remains unnamed throughout. As the story opens, he is watching a movie for the fourth time, enjoying a scene in which a woman is tied down to a bed. However, his mind is also troubled by thoughts of his sick wife. The Bingo King is originally from the South, and as he sits in the movie theater he thinks about the difference between his home, where “folks stuck together .. . they didn’t even have to know you,” and how it contrasts with the everyone-for-himself mentality of the Northern city in which he now lives.
When he wins the chance to spin the bingo wheel, however, he overcomes his Southern reticence and naivete. Seeing the opportunity to control his fate at last, he refuses to let go of the button that spins the wheel. All of the frustrations and hardships of his life flash before him as the wheel spins, and while he continues to push the button he feels that he can suspend time. However, the real world finally intrudes upon him when he receives a literal kick in the head, jolting him back to reality as the story ends.
Laura is the Bingo King’s wife. She is suffering from an unspecified serious ailment, and the Bingo King needs money to pay the doctor. She only appears in the story in the Bingo King’s thoughts.
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, Ralph Ellison, Published by Gale, 1997.