Critical Overview

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While Ellison’s audience has largely been a popular one, academic writers also find much to say about Ellison and his work. George Edgar Slusser, for example, in an early study of Ellison’s work, Harlan Ellison: Unrepentant Harlequin, connects Ellison to the tradition established by Poe, Hawthorne, Melville and Twain, that of the ‘‘mythical allegory.’’

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D. R. Eastwood, on the other hand, examines ‘‘‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman’’ through the lens of Aristotelian rhetoric, suggesting that the story is a form of ‘‘Deliberative Rhetoric,’’ as is Orwell’s 1984. That is, these stories ‘‘caution citizens that their governments are encroaching upon their freedom and thereby diminishing their lives.’’ He specifically identifies ‘‘‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman’’ as a parable.

Thomas Dillingham, in an article for Dictionary of Literary Biography, identifies the Harlequin as one of Ellison’s most famous creations, and connects him to other famous literary characters such as Winston Smith from 1984 (1949) and the hero of Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962). He concludes that with this story, ‘‘Ellison thus adds his entry to the special subgenre of twentieth-century works that explore violation of the mind as the ultimate form of slavery.’’

Other critics praise Ellison for his development as a writer, as evidenced by the story. Joseph Patrouch, for example, cites ‘‘‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman’’ as Ellison’s ‘‘breakthrough’’ story, the story that shows ‘‘Ellison growing out of the formula.’’

Nonetheless, while most critics applaud ‘‘‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman’’ for its daring experimentation and message, one who finds what he considers a fatal flaw in the story is Michael D. White. His concern is that Ellison does not pay attention to historical processes in the story, and thus, although this is a story concerned with time, it is nonetheless a static story. He writes that Ellison’s ‘‘weakness stems from his inability to place this...

(The entire section contains 488 words.)

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Essays and Criticism