Harlan Ellison

“Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman

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“Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman Summary

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“‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” is a science fiction short story by Harlan Ellison. The critically acclaimed story earned Hugo and Nebula awards. The story, originally published in Galaxy magazine in December 1965, is Ellison’s most famous story. Ellison later included the story as part of Paingod and Other Delusions. The story is frequently included in anthologies of Ellison’s work or of Nebula Award stories.

Everett C. Marm, known as The Harlequin, is a man with no sense of time. Everett gets called the Harlequin because he dresses like a medieval fool in motley attire. He lives in a dystopian futuristic world that prioritizes both punctuality and conformity. Everything in the society runs on an extremely precise schedule.

The society he lives in has a Master Timekeeper known as The Ticktockman. This villain is a totalitarian dictator. The mask he wears hides whether he is human or a robot. The Ticktockman makes sure everything in the society runs on time. He also monitors all the citizens to make sure that they are always on time. The Harlequin disrupts the perfectly ordered world run by the Ticktockman.

In this world, it is a crime to be late. It is a world ruled by the ticking of a clock. The punishment for running late is that time gets taken away from your total expected lifespan. If you are five-minutes late, five minutes gets deducted from your lifespan. If a person is always late, which is considered the worst crime, the person’s life is terminated. The Ticktockman uses a device called a cardioplate to stop a person’s heart, resulting in death. The cardioplate enables the Ticktockman to access every person’s movements and biological processes.

Harlan Ellison wrote the allegorical story in a nonlinear fashion. For the purpose of the allegory, the characters do not need to be well developed. The narrative of the story begins in the middle, returns to the beginning, and ends at the end. Just like his rebel, The Harlequin, Ellison rebels against many rules of writing. For example, he includes an entire paragraph that is a run-on sentence about jellybeans.

The short story begins with a long passage from Henry David Thoreau. The passage comes from Thoreau’s essay, Resistance to Civil Government (Civil Disobedience). The essay, published in 1849, argues that the government should not force its people to be agents of injustice or to lessen their consciences. Thoreau argues that many men serve the country with just their bodies and without their consciences. The men who keep their consciences and resist the state are heroes.

Next, Ellison takes the reader to the middle of the plot. The Harlequin resists the strictly enforced schedule of his society. He prefers to take his time and enjoy the sunshine. Despite his small physical stature, he is considered a large hero among people of the lower classes. He disrupts daily life in many ways. He doesnot pay attention to time.

The Harlequin loves to play practical jokes. One time on his shift, he showers his fellow workers on automatic sidewalks with 150,000 dollarsworth of jelly beans. His anarchistic actions make him a threat to the state. This results in the master schedule being delayed by seven minutes. The Master Timekeeper sends his minions to learn who is this Harlequin disrupting his orderly society.

The story then shifts to the beginning of the plot. We learn how time and the perpetual tick tock of the clock became more and more of an intrusion on the society. We learn that all citizens are forced to wear the cardioplates.

Next, the story shifts to the ending. Pretty Alice is the wife or girlfriend of The Harlequin. While they are home together, she turns his name into the Ticktockman because she is frustrated that Everett is never on time. The Ticktockman now knows that Everett is The Harlequin for whom he is looking.

The Harlequin is captured. The Ticktockman is surprised that The Harlequin is just a regular man who cannot be on time. During his capture, The Ticktockman orders Everett to repent. To which, Everett tells the Ticktockman to “get stuffed.” As punishment, Everett is brainwashed at Coventry. Instead of killing him, Everett is forced to appear on television. Everett must publicly renounce his previous statements against the Ticktockman.

In an interesting twist at the end of the story, the Ticktockman himself runs three minutes late.

Prolific American writer Harlan Ellison (born May 27, 1934) has published over 1,700 short stories, novellas, essays, and scripts for comic books, television, and film. His work defies categorization but is often labeled as speculative or science fiction. He served as editor of two science fiction anthologies. Works of speculative fiction are set in supernatural or futuristic worlds. He has won numerous awards including Edgars, Nebulas, and Hugos.