In the story, both the Harlequin and the Ticktockman disguise themselves and assume a larger, symbolic identity. These masks and costumes represent the ways in which anonymity can lend greater power to individuals, allowing them to appear larger than life. The Harlequin’s court jester costume and anonymous nature grants him symbolic resonance both for the lower classes, who view him as a sort of folk hero, and for the upper classes, who view him as a threat to their established power. Without his costume the Harlequin is simply Everett C. Marm, someone who “wasn’t much to begin with, except a man who had no sense of time.” Assuming the guise of the Harlequin turns this character flaw into a potent symbol of rebellion. This, in turn, is what makes him a threat to the Ticktockman; while the Ticktockman has the technology to stop any individual’s heart, he is powerless to stop more nebulous things like the beliefs, hopes, and dreams of citizens who wish that the world were different. Moreover, the Ticktockman cannot use his lethal technology until he figures out the Harlequin’s true identity. The Harlequin’s masked nature thus poses a double threat and gives him immense power in a society where the Ticktockman knows almost everything.
The Ticktockman himself is another masked character whose anonymity allows him to become larger than life. His real name is never revealed in the story, and he is only ever referred to as the Ticktockman behind his back and “Master Timekeeper” to his face. As with the Harlequin, the Ticktockman’s masked nature enables him to become more than just an individual. Instead, he is representative of an oppressive, authoritarian society as a whole. Because he is conflated so directly with society itself, he seems almost impossible to defy or destroy, which makes the Harlequin’s resistance all the more startling and meaningful.
Masks and Costumes Quotes in “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman
“This is what he is, said the Ticktockman with genuine softness, “but not who he is. This time-card I'm holding in my left hand has a name on it, but it is the name of what he is, not who he is. The cardioplate here in my right hand is also named, but not whom named, merely what named. Before I can exercise proper revocation, I have to know who this what is.”