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Could you please tell me what the narrator means by the phrase "drums of his destiny"...

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coutelle | Valedictorian

Posted April 23, 2013 at 7:22 AM via web

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Could you please tell me what the narrator means by the phrase "drums of his destiny" in the following excerpt of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, chapter Six? Is this just a variant of "the trumpet blast of Fame"?

An instinct toward his future glory had led him, some months before, to the small Lutheran college of St. Olaf in southern Minnesota. He stayed there two weeks, dismayed at its ferocious indifference to the drums of his destiny, to destiny itself, and despising the janitor’s work with which he was to pay his way through. 

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 23, 2013 at 10:28 PM (Answer #1)

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In Chapter 6, Fitzgerald describes the transition from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby. During this time of "Gatz's" life, he was reinventing himself. He dreamed of becoming someone important. So, when he went to St. Olaf's, he did not feel that the college gave him the opportunity to become the person he wanted to be. He also despised the lowly job of being a janitor while he was there. The slow process of his education (he only stayed two weeks) and the janitorial work did not seem to put him on track to what he thought was his destiny. 

This phrase, "drums of his destiny," could refer to the "trumpet blast of Fame" because Gatsby desired to become significant, whether in terms of fame, monetary success, and eventually, romantic success. Since drums are a percussive instrument, this quote might simply imply that Gatsby felt his progress was too slow at St. Olaf's. Therefore, he needed to speed up (the "beat" of the drums of his life) in order to get somewhere more significant. In this interpretation, however, the irony is that he wandered from job to job along Lake Superior and lucked into meeting Dan Cody who would become his role model. 

There are quite a few famous lines from literature that compare drums to progress and movement. Think of the drums accompanying the march of soldiers into war and how wars change history. For Gatsby, the "drums" would be like the drums accompanying his own march into some new fate. For an example more specific to Gatsby, consider the line from Henry David Thoreau's Walden

Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. 

While Thoreau is arguing for the individual to avoid the desperate attempt to keep pace with his/her peers in the modern world, Gatsby wants to outpace his. But where the comparison is the same, Gatsby does march to the beat of "a different drummer" (his own drummer) since he has attempted to create a new persona for himself. In this sense, continuing with the analogy, he does not march to the beat of his family history, his economic background, and he doesn't march to (follow along with) the social realities of his world. The "drums of his destiny" are of his own making. He is literally trying to create his own destiny and in doing so, he is marching to his own beat. Shifting from the analogy to a literal statement, Gatsby is progressing and growing according to his own aspirations. 

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