Harlan Ellison’s “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman” Summary

Symbolism In his most famous fictional work of 1965, Harlan Ellison writes about a society controlled by time. In this society, being late, even for a second is a crime punishable by law. Throughout the book, Harlan uses symbols to make his readers appreciate the depth of the issue concerning time. One of the major symbols used by the author is the “ticktockman”. In this society, man is a slave to time, as the latter controls all the activities of the former. The ticktockman is in charge of ensuring that everyone conforms to the law of the land, in relation to time-keeping (Ellison, 877). His duty is to make everyone accountable for the time lost on their hands. The ticktockman ensures that for every second lost, the same is deducted from the individual’s life. The ticktockman has the power to punish any person found to be contravening the law. In essence, the ticktockman is a symbol of an oppressive society, led by tyrants.

Tyrants include; elites in the society, politicians, and government agents. These are the people, who have the power to end the life of a common citizen if the latter does not act in accordance with the rules. For example, the ticktockman uses the “cardio plate” to end the life of Marshall Delahanty, who tries to escape punishment for wasting time. The tyrants represented by the ticktockman punish people for flaunting rules. Nevertheless, these tyrants themselves either do not adhere to the same rules or bend the rules whenever they deem necessary. For instance, when the “harlequin” goes to the shopping center and tells people to stop obeying the time-keeping orders, the ticktockman stops all the on-going construction work and orders the workers to catch the harlequin. Many hours which could have been spent building the economy are lost in the process. However, since it is the ticktockman who gives the directive, this is not considered as time wastage and no one is punished.

The second important symbol used by the author is that of the “harlequin” character. The harlequin, in this case, is the protagonist, who openly defies the time-keeping rule. To him, one should be able to enjoy their freedom. At the shopping center, the harlequin urges people to refuse being enslaved by time, as well as by the local authorities, led by the ticktockman. According to Ellison (884), Harlequin advises people to go out and enjoy life, just like they should. Here, the harlequin symbolizes poor people in the society, who are oppressed by the authorities. The harlequin is the voice of change in society. When the harlequin stands on top of a building at the shopping center and addresses the people, several things go terribly wrong. As the people gather to watch the Harlequin’s spectacle, they forget to go shopping, goods are not delivered on time, and revenue collected from sales that day is significantly down. The ticktockman, a representative of the state orders people to look for him, so that he can face justice.

Being a representative of the subjugated people in society, the harlequin refuses to “repent” at the hands of the ticktockman. This results in the harlequin being sent to Coventry where he is mistreated and abused. Finally, he is forced to denounce his ideals and beliefs. This symbolizes the helplessness of a single individual against a whole government, the latter which emerges the victor. Nevertheless, the harlequin succeeds in giving hope to low-class people that if they unite, they can fight repressive governance.

 

Works cited
Harlan Ellison. “Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”. New York: The Kilimanjaro Corporation, I965. Print.

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