The drum that Meg gives to Stanley for his birthday is a clear representation of her fondness for order. When Stanley first unwraps the gift, she urges him to play it, encouraging him as he slings it around his neck and marches in circles about the table, rhythmically banging the drum as he goes. Unsurprisingly, she is delighted to hear him tapping out a beat, since rhythm is made up of patterns and repetitions, and requires the player to enact a sense of control. As such, the drum itself comes to stand for the ways in which the characters in The Birthday Party either adhere to or diverge from the order that Meg wants so badly to institute. As Stanley continues to play, the rhythm grows increasingly erratic until, much to Meg’s horror, he beats the instrument in a “savage” and “possessed” manner. In this way, the drum serves as an early indication that the boarding house’s seemingly controlled environment is about to descend into chaos.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Stanley’s Drum appears in The Birthday Party. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.