1965 - 'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman

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sjarrett
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Postby sjarrett » Tue Jan 18, 2005 2:37 pm

Barney Dannelke wrote:Until recently it was a very depressing story for me. Spanner in the works ending aside, they turn the hero to their purpose and that's always a major bummer.

But now I'm thinking - ah, what the hell, we all get turned by degrees - and the story says to me something more like "you know, we're all going down that hole, we're all taking the dirt nap so you might as well go clever. Might as well go with some style."


Barney,

I think you're onto something there. If Harlan had allowed Marm to ultimately rise above it all, to escape being apprehended and remain forever untouched by the Establishment, to go on being a thorn in the side of the Ticktockman indefinitely, then the Harlequin would have been, in effect, a superhero. Whereas in the story as we have it, he's just this guy. Even as you and I. He's the kind of regular guy for whom, as has been noted elsewhere, Harlan shows a perennial affinity in his fiction.

I think that's important because a story that asks us to believe in a superhero implicitly lets us as individuals off the hook. It implies that we can sit back and wait for a champion to take on the Establishment on our behalf. But a story that asks us to believe only that an ordinary guy can make a small dent in the System before meeting his inevitable doom suggests something else -- something that resonates with fortysomethings like you and like me, who remember the civil rights movement of the Sixties. It suggests that the best that we as individuals can hope for -- even if we dress up in motley and have improbable access to absurd quantities of jellybeans -- is to put a small dent in the System. The conclusion, therefore, is that none of us is off the hook. If each of us is capable of inflicting only a small dent, then it's going to take vast numbers of us, each making our small dent, to punch a meaningful hole in the monolith.

It's a hopeful message. But maybe not so much for the kids we were when we first encountered this story. I think your implication that maybe this is a story you have to grow into makes a lot of sense.

Steve J.

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Postby JosephFinn » Tue Jan 18, 2005 7:17 pm

You know, this weirdly occurred to me; the separation between a man & superman in "Harlequin," while I was reading "Cavelier & Klay." Not sure how far I want to take this analogy, but it's interesting how the characters of Cavelier and Klay are, besides human, almost thrust into near superhero situations - but come out human in them

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Jan
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Postby Jan » Tue Jan 18, 2005 11:31 pm

Actually, this isn't another post by Jan--my name is Mary, and due to technical difficulties, he's allowed me to sign on using his name. (You're a prince sir! Thanks again!) I've been dying to add my own two cents in, so here goes...

I know exactly how you feel, Chuck Messer. I used to work under similar circumstances. It got to the point in my former workplace that breathing became a crime. I wanted to go to the supermarket and buy a whole bunch of jellybeans and spread the joy, just to break the strain everyone was under. I couldn't stand the rules of "get back to your seat on time or else!" Or else what? Was management going to turn into the Ticktockman and erase my personality, all so they could have yet another slave chained to a desk, never questioning the rules? Heck no! I quit that job after four years of servitude. I wanted to be the Harlequin, sticking out my tongue and goin wugga-wugga-wugga, and there is still a large part of me that wanted to say "Get stuffed!" whenever I was told I was late or my call time wasn't exactly three minutes per call. I think there needs to be at least one Harlequin per company. Time can become the chains of the workplace--why not enjoy life and not strangle with worries about every second, minute, hour, day, week, month, and year?

(If anyone can tell me how to overcome the problem of signing in, please let me know. The admin is on vacation, and I can't sign in under my own name! Jan was kind enough to let me use his, but I'd like to use mine before everyone starts to wonder if he has a split personality. :))
Last edited by Jan on Tue Jun 10, 2008 7:57 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Jan
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Postby Jan » Wed Jan 19, 2005 9:13 am

So far, if I'm not mistaken, we have yet to hit the nail on the head concerning the ending. I understand that Harlan gets annoyed when people think this guy's a robot. There is only so much leeway for interpretation. This is also not about the subconscious of the Ticktockman (David et al), it's just a reminder that humans aren't clockworks. If he was a robot, it wouldn't have occurred. The irony lies in the fact that this happens to him, of all people, the one who demands perfection and will himself never be perfect. We are all fallible, and shouldn't demand total perfection from each other. Thus, for the ending to make sense the Ticktockman HAS to be human.

Another thing, this seems to be a "if this goes on" type of story, like THE DEATHBIRD, a warning. It struck me that Harlan didn't make it so much a story about Harlequin, as about the Ticktockman. They're both TYPES, not round characters. The Ticktockman is the only one having a problem and dealing with it, while Harlequin just does what he does until he's stopped. Both of them don't learn or change, and we don't particularly care for them. Harlan deemed that unneccessary, he could easily have made us care more. The story is all about its theme, it's a fable. TRUE or FALSE? :roll:

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Barney Dannelke
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Postby Barney Dannelke » Wed Jan 19, 2005 2:13 pm

In an argument weighted with common definitions for "fable" I would say FALSE. The story, while cautionary is a looking forward rather than backwards, employs flawed, mortal, non-legendary beings AND features no talking animals. So my answer is FALSE. What do I win?

I find it curious that you find neither character particularly sympathetic. Bad marriage aside for the moment, one normally tends to sympathize with a character who is subjugated and humiliated. At least I do.

- Barney

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Postby Micheal » Wed Jan 19, 2005 3:50 pm

I think Ray Bradbury said it best:

I don't try to describe the future. I try to prevent it.

There is nothing of the fable within this story, or in much of Harlan's work. If anything, Ellison's work tends to strip away the mythic, often to show how these archetypes tend to fail us.

But I'm willing to suggest that "Repent, Harlequin! is an anti-fable, in its creation of a hero made in the tradition of an Everyman (Marm being any one of us, in the right conditions) taking up cause against the monolithic State, perceived by most as undefeatable. While the price is paid for his efforts, Harlequin does gain a measure of progress for the society, in the Master Timekeeper beginning to unknowingly alter in his operations of schedules.

To compare, the tale is less about Superman, Frodo, Gandalf or Zorro; more Henry David Thoreau, Frederic Douglas, Eugene V. Debs or Margaret Sanger. Rather than suggest the superhero as the solution, Ellison suggests the need for us to invoke the Marm within us.

Get in touch with your inner Harlequin, I guess.

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Jan
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Postby Jan » Wed Jan 19, 2005 4:28 pm

You know, Barney, if I really felt a connection with Harlequin, it would bring a tear to my eye what they did to him. Harlan didn't set out to make us cry or suffer, although the story could have been rewritten to do that because the material is there. This is not traditional storytelling. The characters are completely merged with the theme, as tends to happen in fables. I responded not so much to the characters but to the theme.

Obviously, I did "sympathize" with Harlequin, but that's something else.

(OK, I'm always bad with literary terms, I think the term parable would be better suited then?? Thanks guys.)
Last edited by Jan on Tue Jun 10, 2008 8:00 am, edited 1 time in total.

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I'm Late!

Postby Steve Evil » Wed Jan 19, 2005 5:08 pm

False.
Though, I see your point about the level of detatchment from the characters, I don't think they're mere types.
Unca Harlan maintains time and again he writes about people, and this is definately a story about people. Specifically, one particular person who is very unhappy with the world he inhabits. And another, who has thrived in it. There's even a third if you include the wife, who just wants to exist, whatever the system may be. I would argue they both learn and change throughout the story. The Harlequin does repent. The ticktockman does lose count.
The Harlequin is no the standard rebel; the standard rebel wouldn't have used jelly beans. That was his particular act of rebellion.

Now did anybody notice that for his second act of rebellion, the one with the netting, the Harlequin needed to be on time? The scheme depended on him arriving early. If he'd shown up late it wouldn't have worked. So he had to watch the clock and be there at a particular time.

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Postby Jan » Wed Jan 19, 2005 6:46 pm

Mr.Evil wrote:they both learn and change throughout the story. The Harlequin does repent. The ticktockman does lose count.


Oh come on. In a traditional story you have characters that learn something and change accordingly in the course of dealing with obstacles. Here we don't have that. Harlequin becomes someone else due to outside forces. And the Ticktockman hasn't changed, he always was a human being.

However, I agree they aren't types in the normal sense, like stereotypes. But they service the theme and message - it's not a story about "people", it's a story about types of people. And that's why it touches us. Not because Harlan makes us care a great deal about the characters, he doesn't have to. We know who they stand for.

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Postby Micheal » Wed Jan 19, 2005 8:20 pm

Steve:

Harlequin doesn't repent, he is forced back into conformity by the most coercive of the State's weapons; torture.

As to the issue of "standards" within rebellion, how does one call something rebellious if it falls with a relatively accepted convention or norm? The rebel is the shape beyond conformity or convention, and is often feared for that aspect.

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Barney Dannelke
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Postby Barney Dannelke » Wed Jan 19, 2005 9:49 pm

OK, specificity and language barriers aside - IF I am going to have to choose between phrases like

"changed by outside forces" and

subjugated and brainwashed by state sanctioned torture

then I'm going with that last one as a better description of what happens in the story. It's almost as though Jan is trying to soft peddle Machiavellian methods of abuse and torture. And speaking as an American I just want to say back off. That's OUR job these days.

And the Chinese. Yeah, they're good. But they've had longer to practice. But we're learning real fast. "Democracy" is coming baby. Watch out.

- Barney

"You are free. Free to do what we tell you to do..." - Bill Hicks

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Postby Jan » Thu Jan 20, 2005 5:38 am

Barney, I was analyzing the brainwashing as a story element of a particular kind - a character being changed by outside forces as opposed to character himself having an insight that changed him. If you analyze a story, you have to step back and use more general terms. My point was that this is not a traditional story and I was attempting to explain why. Not trying to soft-pedal torture.

The story's a parable and doesn't need full-fleshed characters, just fitting stand-ins. It's kind of in between, but the characters don't really have much of a life beyond their function in the story, although Harlequin's showing up early surprised me.
Last edited by Jan on Tue Jun 10, 2008 8:00 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby FinderDoug » Thu Jan 20, 2005 8:45 am

Random bits:

On general character types: there is no more general character than the Ticktockman, who doesn't even have a described face. He wears a mask throughout the story. I think this is a very subtle move on Harlan's part. By not nailing down a visual touchstone for the chatracter's face - hair, eyes, what have you - he's created a universal foe that every person who reads the story can associate with their own personal Master Timekeeper. And we've all been under the thumb of a boss, a principal, a parent - hell, even an alarm clock, a time clock, the little 'ping' the electronic calendar gives when a meeting is almost upon you. By depriving us of a face for the Ticktockman, we are allowed to substitute from imagination, and we've all got someone or something that takes us to task time-wise that we loathe. It's as close as hitting the snooze bar at o-dark thirty.

One thing that's always nagged at me, in terms of the ending. Marm is de-beaned, so to speak, by the Master Timekeeper. He recants. He becomes the example of what happens when you mess with the bull. He does dent the villain by throwing him off schedule - but the Master Timekeeper is hardly aghast over this. In fact, he kind of shrugs it off. The question is, is he so powerful that this truly is a non-event for him? Or is he so overconfident that he refuses to recognize the problem, that this demonstrates his vulnerability?

In fact, considering this, the case can be made that both Harlequin and Ticktockman demonstrate the same thing in the story: that all of this schedule rubbish is arbitrary. Harlequin goes about it as a rebel - he disrupts multiple schedule at multiple times, and society doesn't implode. And the Master Timekeeper goes about it as any bureaucratic weasel would: he implies someone else's watch must be wrong.

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Postby Micheal » Thu Jan 20, 2005 9:13 am

FinderDoug:

I'm completely agreed with the comments in the first paragraph, of how we have all of these little Ticktockmen nipping at our heels, forcing us along the paths others would have us down "for your own good". All I could add is that many that are so pushed tend to have these representations as icons of resentment and anger in their lives, a few allowing themselves to be consumed by these pressures to the point of creating acts of varying degree of violence.

I'm imagining Marm going postal, instead of throwing jellybeans. Emotionally speaking, I don't think each being far afield from one another, and that's depresses me somewhat, upon consideration.

Whether or not the Master Timekeeper is truly affected by Marm is something suggested by Ellison's final paragraph. It does derive some level of importance from the fact of being mentioned, and the Ticktockman echoes Harlequin's "mrmee, mrmee, mrmee" comments.

I tend to think that Ellison, through Harlequin, doesn't necessarily want society to implode, but more to change to the degree where the forces of comformity and order can appreciate the opportunities and difference in perspective that dissenting views and voices can create in societal operation, intent, or discourse, on any and all levels. While Marm doesn't change the world, he does effect change through his altering of the mindset of the Master Timerkeeper, and the schedules will remain to be thrown off irrespective of the denials of Ticky.

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Postby sjarrett » Thu Jan 20, 2005 10:16 am

Just throwing out a question:

Does anyone have any thoughts on why this story, of all the hundreds that have flowed from Harlan's typewriter, is the one that is most anthologized? Not only the most anthologized Ellison story, mind you, but one of the most anthologized stories in the English language, period. Granted, it's an excellent story, but is it his best? Why this one? Why not "The Deathbird," or "Daniel White for the Greater Good," or "Shattered Like a Glass Goblin," or "Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes," or "Paingod," or any of dozens of other exceptional stories?

Steve J.


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