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."
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.