The King of the Bingo Game
The main character in Ralph Ellison’s “The King of the Bingo Fame” doubts his sanity in the beginning of the story while at the same time, insisting to himself that he is not insane. Though this character can obviously be seen as insane at the end of the story, readers see that it is not a genetic abnormality that makes him so but the influence of his surroundings. Ellison makes this transition from sanity to insanity clear through his use of circular and linear imagery.
The first occurrence of this motif occurs when the protagonist wonders what would happen if movies took on a life of their own. In this passage, Ellison describes the projection beam, “It started small and grew large, specks of dust dancing in its whiteness as it reached the screen". This sentence is key in understanding linear and circular imagery in the story. The image of the beam as a linear object is underscored by the description of dust particles in its whiteness. From this, readers begin to see that linear images are indicative of things beyond the main character’s control, particularly those things controlled by white men.
Images of trains and train tracks in the story further this observation. In the protagonist’s dream while he is waiting for the bingo game to begin, a train follows him as a boy. While the train tracks themselves are linear, they do not confine the train: “[. . .] and looking back and seeing with terror that the train had left the track and was following him right down the middle of the street, and all the white people laughing as he ran screaming . . .”. The boy in the dream is terrified of the oncoming train but those around him, the white people, only laugh. From this, it shows evidence that the train threatens only him because he has no control over it, even though the dream is his. This image is echoed later in the protagonist’s visions of a subway train and in the line of the cord attached to the bingo wheel.