Life has been a topic of unending debate in the course of human history. Arguably, life is a controversial subject. What is definite is that it has a beginning and an end. However, the beginning itself, origins arouse debate on the topic. Many schools of thought have emerged; with science and religion leading in suppositions. The end of life is also a controversial topic with different theories explaining what happens after the human body dies. The course of life is not without controversy. Many argue that life is a destined path while others argue that people have a choice to choose how their lives turn out. This paper will examine the concepts of choice versus fate with regard to human life in the context of King of the Bingo Game and Hamlet. In the King of the Bingo game, an unnamed protagonist battle forces external and internal in pursuit of fortune. In Hamlet, characters question the events of their lives and the possibility of having different outcomes.
The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince
In Hamlet, Prince Hamlet is the ideal tragic hero. It is difficult to determine if he is a victim of circumstances or fate had it in store for him. However, it is arguably a case of fate for Hamlet (Hadfield 567). Hamlet does not stop selecting the paths he will take. However, it is inevitable that he falls victim to the same tragic end that befell his father for delaying in granting his father’s wishes. From the beginning, Hamlet is reluctant in making decisions and taking measures based on decisions. His intellectual wandering delays his course of action especially when he meets his father’s ghost and gets an explanation of what happened to lead to his death. Fear holds Hamlet back, but fate cannot be avoided. Hamlet is torn between religion and fulfilling his father’s ghost’s wishes. Religion condemns murder and yet his father whom he loved has returned as a spirit and has only one wish; for Hamlet to commit murder in vengeance. Hamlet is afraid of what he would become if he killed Claudius and the blood was on his hands. Hamlet is hesitant to proceed with the plans of his father’s ghost. Eventually, he stumbles on a plan that assists him to assuage his conscience. He uses the play to find out if Claudius is guilty and having proven the guilt, he cannot delay any more.
The Theme of Fate in Hamlet
Fate is evident in Hamlet’s story since he tries to avoid doing what he is destined to do with the most convenient excuses. When he gets the perfect opportunity to kill Claudius, he delays and chooses not to carry on with the plan. He finds Claudius kneeling presumably in prayer and hesitates after drawing his sword in the belief that killing a man in prayer will send the man to heaven. This scene in Act 3 scene 3 of Hamlet is an indication of the manner in which Hamlet’s intellectuality tries to make him avoid the clutches of fate. The hesitation in killing Claudius would eventually cost not only Hamlet’s life but Ophelias and Gertrude’s too. Avoiding fate has a cost (Hartman). Taking alternative paths to avoid fate comes at a price that Hamlet had to pay; it cost him not only his life but also the lives of others.
In Hamlet, the ghost of the dead King who appears to Hamlet and asks him to avenge the murder is the embodiment of fate. The ghost refers to Claudius’s crime as murder most foul and the only suitable punishment is death (1.5.30-35). This pronunciation sets the stage for Hamlet’s date with fate. For now, Hamlet has to either fulfill the wish of his dead father’s ghost or refrain from doing so but live with the knowledge his father was murdered and the killer is king and married to his mother. Hamlet is very hesitant and avoids coming to a decision at the least discouragement. He admits to over-thinking matters. He deliberates too much on issues and sometimes ends up not concluding after poring over an issue. The ghost has ordered Hamlet to carry out an action that weighs against his conscience but he is split between duty to his father and morals (Jones 139). He is sad at his father’s death and angry with his mother for seemingly not being moved and marrying a man whom Hamlet despises. However, his life has changed after meeting the ghost and he has major decisions to make. Given his grief and resentment of the domestic and political situation, fate has it that he must make a move.
Hamlet Fine Line Between Sanity and Insanity
In Hamlet, a tragedy at least, at any given moment during the play, the most accurate assessment of Hamlet’s state of mind lies between sanity and insanity. Shakespeare's Hamlet demonstrates how a son’s relationship with his parents, particularly how a son’s bond with his mother changes after his father dies. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is haunted by the violence of his father’s death and the selfish non-grieving way in which his mother chooses to wed her husband’s brother, the new King Claudius. Hamlet is torn between grief, anger, and denial. He does not understand why what is happening has to happen to him. The events leave him in turmoil and he questions the purpose of his life. In the soliloquy in Act 1 scene 2, Hamlet ponders suicide. His thoughts wander over what the gods have in store for him. He is not sure if his destiny is sealed or things can get better.
King of the Bingo Game Protagonist Transformation
In King of the Bingo Game, the main protagonist is at a crossroads. He faces the bingo wheel that stands for the Wheel of Fortune. The Wheel of Fortune has the power to bestow losses or fortune on the spinner of the wheel. An interesting point to ask would be whether the spinner of the wheel controls their destiny or fortunes at the wheel are decided by fate (Hoeveler 40). The unnamed protagonist wins at the table and is given a chance to spin at the wheel. He is understandably nervous due to the things at stake. He ponders whether it is destined for him to win or fate has it that he will lose. However, a mixture of alcohol and nervousness leads him to lose it all despite the wheel landing on the winning combination.
Fate is imminent in King of the Bingo Game for the protagonist. From the beginning, the main protagonist is at a disadvantage. The situation does not favor him and eventually when he thinks his winning streak will lead him out of the troubles he faces, his luck runs out. He has a sick wife and he is almost penniless. He uses the last of his money to play bingo, at which he wins. The win at the bingo table makes him confident. He believes he has mastered the path to his fortune. However, the dreams are crushed at the wheel. At this moment, the protagonist is challenging fate. He is trying to assert dominance over his destiny. However, fear grips him when he realizes that power over his destiny will be transferred to the wheel when he releases the button. He panics and refuses to remove his hand from the button feeling powerful since so long as he does not release the button, he is in control of his fortune. As it is to be, he is not in control of his fortune, and fate claims yet another victim. It is evident he wins since the wheel pointer lands on the winning combination. However, since he held onto the button for too long, he has to face the consequences. Few people have successfully challenged fate (Yaffe 179). In this way, fate yet again establishes its dominance.
King of the Bingo Game Symbolism
The unknown protagonist in King of the Bingo Game has a dream to beat fate and gain fortune. His ambition is a disclosure of the high social invisibility, humility, and alienation that he undergoes (Eversley 446). The socioeconomic background acts as a platform for his defeatist attitude. He thinks that everything in life is interfered with in some way by an unknown force. The protagonist thinks that everything is fixed (Ellison 125). The protagonist has not put a name to it, but he has recognized the impact of fate. A turn of fortune at the bingo table however makes the man forget the impact that fate is having on his life. The man’s attitude changes and he begins to believe that to some extent he exercises control over the events going on in his life (Li-Xue 23). He attains a false belief in deterministic fate and opposes the incongruity of his existence in a battle towards attaining authenticity. The hero of the tale, in a rush of weighty feeling of hope for good prospects ahead, declares himself the king of the bingo game. This is possibly the last straw, as fate would have it. The hero acts as if he is about to be repaid for all the injustices he has suffered in the course of his life. In his dream, he can possibly visualize freedom, a return to love and happiness, a confident self-image, and an emergence into the world as a person of substance. However, fate does not buy his dreams and has its way with him.
The concepts of choice versus fate with regard to human life in the context of King of the Bingo Game and Hamlet are explored through the protagonist’s adventures or rather misadventures. In King of the Bingo Game, an unnamed protagonist battle forces external and internal in pursuit of fortune. In Hamlet, the main character questions the events of his life and the possibility of having different outcomes. Hamlet experiences turmoil in his life when the ghost of his dead father reveals to him the murder that led to his death. Hamlet is in grief and his father’s ghost represents fate that has caught him at a sad time. Hamlet has the choice to fulfill his father’s wishes or live according to his morals with the knowledge, his father was murdered and the killer roams free. Hamlet tries to postpone decision-making as the clock runs down and eventually fate claims him. The unnamed protagonist in King of the Bingo Game wrestles after winning at the table. He had poor prospects but winning at the table makes him challenge fate and change his outlook on life. However, fate has its way at the Wheel of Fortune where the protagonist wins and loses at the same time. From the two stories, fate has been the clear winner in deciding the outcomes of the protagonist’s lives.
Ellison, Ralph. "King of the bingo game." Flying home and other stories(1944): 123-36.
Eversley, Shelly. "The Lunatic's Fancy and the Work of Art." American Literary History 13.3 (2001): 445-468.
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Hadfield, Andrew. "The Power and Rights of the Crown in Hamlet and King Lear: The King
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Hoeveler, Diane Long. "Game theory and Ellison's King of the Bingo Game."Journal of American Culture 15.2 (1992): 39-42.
Jones, Ernest. "6. Hamlet and Oedipus." Essential Papers on Literature and Psychoanalysis (1993): 139.
Li-Xue, Z. H. O. U. "A Perfect Unity between Harsh Realism and Dreamy Surrealism
Comment on Ralph Ellison’s Short Story King of the Bingo Game." Legend Biography Literary Journal Selection 4 (2010): 023.
Shakespeare, William. The new Cambridge Shakespeare. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Ed. Philip
Edwards. Cambridge University Press, 2003.Yaffe, David. "Ralph Ellison." The Cambridge Companion to American Novelists (2012): 179.
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