Study Questions for Harlan Ellison's "'Repent Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" [1965]

Ellison's story is in some ways reminiscent of the earlier "The Country of the Kind" by Damon Knight in that it introduces a protagonist--the Harlequin--who refuses to accept the society in which he lives. As you review the story through the following questions, consider why this story belongs in the Dystopia and Utopia thematic area of Masri's collection.

  1. Why does Ellison preface his story with the quote from Thoreau? What aspects of the quote inform us about the emphasis of the story and the Harlequin's objections to the society in which he lives?
  2. What exactly is a harlequin, and how do the behaviors of this character in the story conform to our typical expectations of a harlequin?
  3. What is the nature of the society in which Harlequin and Pretty Alice live?
  4. How does the Ticktock man's charge that Harlequin is a "nonconformist" (767) expose the central conflict in the story?
  5. The opening Thoreau quote identifies three types of members of any society. To which type does Pretty Alice belong? To which type does Harlequin belong?
  6. What exactly is the Ticktockman? Why does Ellison say that when an individual has been tary too many times, the Ticktockman punishes the individual by turning him off? What does this imply about the Ticktockman and the society?
  7. Why does Ellison refer to 1984 near the end of the story?
  8. How do the final, short paragraphs indicate that Harlequin has in fact "made a little change" in the society?