Nicholas Whyte's Reviews > "Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman

"Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman by Harlan Ellison
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Dec 23, 2009

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It's a very Sixties piece, about a future dystopic society where life is regimented to the last second, the sinister Ticktockman being in charge. One dissident calling himself the Harlequin becomes a chaos agent, playing pranks on both the rulers and the ruled; he is pursued, captured and re-educated a` la Winston Smith (this parallel is explicitly made), but at the end the Ticktockman himself is starting to slack.

The good bit is the writing, which is intense stream-of-consciousness and conveys vivid images. However, the story's classic status cannot disguise the fact that it has not aged all that well; in the end, the Harlequin isn't challenging anything very much, and his means remain somewhat unexplained - where do you get $150,000 worth of jelly beans? Algis Budrys commented when it was first published that it is s "primitive statement ... about [the] solidly acceptable idea [that] regimentation is bad." I was also struck by the sexism of the story. The Harlequin's first reported activity is directed explicitly at women:

"He skimmed over a slidewalk, purposely dropping a few feet to crease the tassels of the ladies of fashion, and— inserting thumbs in large ears— he stuck out his tongue, rolled his eyes and went wugga-wugga-wugga. It was a minor diversion. One pedestrian skittered and tumbled, sending parcels everywhichway, another wet herself, a third keeled slantwise, and the walk was stopped automatically by the servitors till she could be resuscitated. It was a minor diversion."

Hmm, triggering incontinence and temporary death is a minor diversion? If your victims are female, I suppose. Back to the Marx Brothers, I guess. Note also the not very equal relationship between the Harlequin and his girlfriend Pretty Alice, who also presses him to conform like a good spouse should; the Ticktockman later alleges that she turned him in, and one can see why she might have done.
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