Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Lion and the Jewel, on one level, is a comedy about love. Lakunle, the naïve, modernist schoolteacher, attempts to win Sidi’s love by teaching her about the “new” woman’s role, a role based largely on Western society. Opposing him is the shrewd Bale, striving to win Sidi’s love by any means he can, including the ruse about his supposed impotence.

Lakunle’s dress and speech indicate the shallowness of his role of reformer: His clothes show his rejection of the traditional dress of the villages, and his speech expresses his undigested ideas comically. He rejects a traditional element of the marriage ceremony, “the bride price.” He addresses Sidi as an ignorant girl, demonstrating his impetuous lack of control; he alienates himself from the audience with his lack of valid ideas.

The Bale, who wins the sex war, presents himself more favorably. He impresses Sidi with his postage stamp machine, which does not work, and by allowing his servants to form a trade union and allowing them one day off. He is nevertheless, a conservative who plans to keep the village as it has always been. The Bale is a supreme protagonist: Lakunle is simply no match for him. Wole Soyinka’s humorous caricature of Lakunle has the audience taking the Bale’s side. Sidi and Sadiku also win the audience, with their sly understanding of the falseness of both men. Soyinka maintains the humor of the play through his characters—the self-parody of Lakunle, the coquettish behavior of Sidi, and the self-assured quality of the Bale.

The play also has an allegorical level. Sidi represents the Nigerian people, who are tempted to believe the impotence of the past, but eventually experience its power. The Bale represents the centuries of tradition that extend into the present. The mimes, which take place twice in the play, present flashbacks that give the play added historical depth. The play’s energetic combination of dance, song, mime, and comic dialogue reinforces its themes. Soyinka shows a passionate concern for his society, seeking freedom for all. His ideas are not only African, however: His characters and mannerisms are African, but his people represent the whole race. Although many characters are potential victims of their own ingenuity, his heroes are marked ultimately by their ceaseless striving.