In the story, the Harlequin uses “one hundred and fifty thousand” jelly beans in order to disrupt the movement of a conveyor belt leading workers to and from their factory jobs. The colorful candies serve as a physical representation of the kind of chaos and joviality the Harlequin is capable of, while also implicitly highlighting the precariousness and cruelty of a society that so rigidly adheres to an artificial order. The jelly beans disrupt the movement of the workers—who break ranks amidst the colorful deluge—thus disrupting the finely tuned chain of supply and demand regulating the entire society, and, therefore, disrupting the order of society itself. The jelly beans—which are brightly colored, flavored, and entirely silly—manage “to work their way into the mechanism of the slidewalks,” causing “a hideous scraping as the sound of a million fingernails rasped down a quarter of a million blackboards, followed by a coughing and a sputtering.” The subsequent seven-minute delay is described as a “disaster”; that such tiny, silly objects can so easily derail efficiency-focused technology implicitly devalues this technology while also underscoring the precariousness of a society that crumbles in the face of even the most minor delay.
Ellison further underscores the sheer ridiculousness of the beans’ presence through his effusive and descriptive prose, writing, “Jelly beans! Millions and billions of purples and yellows and greens and licorice and grape and raspberry and mint and round and smooth and crunchy outside and soft-mealy inside and sugary and bouncing jouncing tumbling clittering clattering skittering […] Jelly beans!” That they fill “the sky on their way down with all the colors of joy and childhood and holidays” highlights their association with a time before the rigid monotony of the Ticktockman’s intensely structured society. While the jelly beans may pose a threat to the established order of things, they are also random and fun, as evidenced by the workers’ reactions to their surprise deluge: this “torrent of color and sweetness out of the sky from above” causes the workers to laugh as they tumble off their conveyor belts, escaping, for a moment, the humdrum demands of this dystopia as they pop “little jelly bean eggs of childish color into their mouths. It was a holiday, and a jollity, an absolute insanity, a giggle.” Childhood and holidays are both characterized by joy for joy’s sake, meaning the jelly beans directly challenge this world’s extreme emphasis on efficiency and productivity that effectively reduces human workers to homogenous machines.
Jelly Beans Quotes in “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman
The System had been seven minutes worth of disrupted. It was a tiny matter, one hardly worthy of note, but in a society where the single driving force was order and unity and equality and promptness and clocklike precision and attention to the clock, reverence of the gods of the passage of time, it was a disaster of major importance.