Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman Questions and Answers
by Harlan Ellison

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Who is the TickTockman? Is he just the timekeeper or is he something more?

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The dystopian world in Harlan Ellison's short story “’Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” is one in which time is so regimented that acting in a way to disrupt the timing of anything results in a corresponding loss of time in the life of the perpetrator. In this world, the Master Timekeeper, who is nicknamed the Ticktockman, is in charge of maintaining the order and punishing those who disrupt it. Further, he can terminate members of society with no appeal—he merely sends that person a "turn-off notice" and that is a final sentence for that person, even an important person. He is not only the government itself, he is the arbiter of life and death in the society.

Consider the following paragraphs in the story: 

Even in the cubicles of the hierarchy, where fear was generated, seldom suffered, he was called the Ticktockman.

But no one called him that to his mask.

You don't call a man a hated name, not when that man, behind his mask, is capable of revoking the minutes, the hours, the days and nights, the years of your life. He was called the Master Timekeeper to his mask. It was safer that way.

Couple this description with the Harlequin’s characterization of the Ticktockman as a “bogeyman,” and we have a character who is viewed with fear by the powerful and the subversive alike.

Because the Ticktockman can deduct minutes from one’s "cardioplate," even to the extent of blanking it entirely and killing that person, he holds the power of death over every member of his society. He is, in this way, the ultimate ruler of life.

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