The Meaning of The Drums in The Novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

In the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, the drums represent many things such as African beauty, culture and the mystery of an uncharted area. In the eyes of most Europeans, the drums are considered uncivilized, but Marlow disagrees with them. He sees the inner beauty and the uniqueness of this misunderstood culture. In the end the drums represent the connection of people in a universal way.

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The Drums

In the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, the drums represent many things such as African beauty, culture and the mystery of an uncharted area. In the eyes of most Europeans, the drums are considered uncivilized, but Marlow disagrees with them. He sees the inner beauty and the uniqueness of this misunderstood culture. In the end the drums represent the connection of people in a universal way.

Deep within Marlow a curiosity pushed him beyond his comfortable boundaries, to seek the unknown hidden within the forest, the fires, the chanting and tribal dancing. Something so far removed from his upbringing in England.

“The monotonous beating of a big drum filled the air with muffled shocks and a lingering vibration. A steady droning sound of many men chanting each to himself some weird incantation came out from the black,” (59)

The drums that Marlow is hearing are coming from an African cultural tradition, a ceremony or some kind of tribal gathering. He wants to come closer to the fire where the people are chanting but is afraid of the natives and what they would do to him. So he watches from afar with curiosity.

“Perhaps the quiet tremor of far-off drums, sinking, swelling, a tremor vast, faint; a sound weird, appealing, suggestive, and wild – and perhaps with as profound a meaning as the sound of bells in a Christian country” (17)

The drums soothe Marlow and remind him of his home in England with the church bells. He is enticed by the drums and drawn towards them in a curious manner. It is a heartbeat of a country unknown with its unique mesmerizing rhythm, stirring his adventurous side one beat at a time.

“This alone, I was convinced, had driven him out to the edge of the forest, to the bush, towards the gleam of fires, the throb of drums, the drone of weird incantations: this alone had beguiled his unlawful soul beyond the bounds of permitted aspirations.” (61)

Is it his destiny to be with and learn about this culture? He is enticed by the beat of the drums and has stepped into an adventure to pacify an inner calling, challenging him to learn about this culture. Although he never goes into the gleam of fires, he is wanting more and will soon know more than he’ll ever need.

There were many other figures that represented African beauty, mystery of the land and its culture such as the woman in Mr. Kurtz’s tribe.

“She carried her head high; her hair was done in the shape of a helmet; she had brass leggings to the knee, brass wire gauntlets to the elbow, a crimson spot on her tawny cheek, innumerable necklaces of glass beads on her neck; bizarre things, charms, gifts of witch men, that hung about her, glittered and trembled at every step. She must have had the value of several elephant tusks upon her. She was savage and superb in her elaborate progress.” (56)

She represents African beauty, power and the unknown. She is the woman of the tribe who is a powerful figure but also loyal to Mr. Kurtz. She is different from any woman he knows by the way she dresses and acts. She brings out the unique African qualities that are found nowhere else on earth. The forest also represents the unknown and the uncharted area of Africa with its dark mysterious beauty. “Trees, trees, millions of trees, massive, immense, running up high; and at their foot, hugging the bank agents the stream,” (31) The dense forest hides and protects the elephants with their immense amount of treasured and sought after ivory, that so many are driven there in search of, risking their lives within the heart of darkness. Marlow sees the inner beauty of the trees and what they provide to the pilgrims. He realizes how much the trees mean to the native people of Africa and why they entangle themselves within the forest.

Throughout Marlow’s visit in Africa he learned many things about the African culture, their rituals and how they express themselves through chanting, dancing and beating of the drums. He discovered this new language speaking to his heart. He fulfilled his childhood dream of adventure and travel to a far way land filled with many mysteries awaiting him. Nothing was going to stop him. He had a dream.

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