‘‘‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman’’ is the story of a future world, controlled by a tight schedule and the ticking of a clock. In charge of this world is the Ticktockman, a robot-like figure with the power to shorten or terminate anyone’s life as a penalty for running late.
The story begins with a long quote from Henry David Thoreau’s essay, ‘‘Civil Disobedience.’’ In this passage, Thoreau asserts that most men ‘‘serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies.’’ Further, a ‘‘very few’’ men serve the state with their consciences, a service that forces them into resistance of the state. These men, according to Thoreau, are heroes, and often, martyrs.
Ellison then shifts to the story, beginning somewhere in the middle. He sets the story in the future, at a moment when one individual is resisting the enforced schedule of this extremely regimented society. Worse still, this man, called the Harlequin, has become a hero to some of the lower classes. As such, he represents a threat to the state, and has consequently come to the attention of the Master Timekeeper, otherwise known as the Ticktockman.
The Harlequin, so named for his habit of dressing in the medieval fool’s garb of motley, is a trickster figure. He disrupts workers as they try to change shifts, thus disrupting the master schedule. In one instance, he drops 150,000 dollars’ worth of jelly beans on workers on automatic sidewalks, trying to change shifts, delaying the master schedule by seven minutes. For this crime, the Harlequin is ordered to appear before the Ticktockman.
Ellison then shifts to what he calls ‘‘the beginning.’’ In this section, he offers examples of the increasing intrusion of time schedules into people’s lives. He writes, ‘‘And so it goes. And so it goes. And so it goes goes goes goes goes tick tock tick tock tick tock and one day we no longer let time serve us, we serve time and we are slaves of the schedule. . .bound into a life predicated on restrictions because the system will not function if we don’t...
(The entire section is 536 words.)