Wole Soyinka's play The Lion and the Jewel represents the conflict the native Nigerian villagers feel concerning whether or not to embrace their own past culture or the modernist future and how to go about combining both. In the play, the school teacher Lakunle represents the modernist side of culture. Yet, his characterization also shows that he is not quite reaching his goal in achieving Western modernization because he doesn't thoroughly understand the culture.
His modernization is depicted in the fact he wears English clothing rather than native clothing. Yet, his English suit is also described as being "old-style." Since the suit is so old, it is also "threadbare," and most importantly, the suit is "obviously a size or two too small." The description of his old-fashioned clothing helps to show that he is, in reality, still stuck in the past though he is trying to embrace modernization. The fact that the suit is also too small for him shows that the modernization he is trying to adapt to doesn't fully fit his needs, desires, or understanding. He lives partially in his past Nigerian village culture and partially in the present.
His attempt to embrace modernization is further depicted in the fact that he refuses to pay Sidi's bride-price, which is a gift in either money or goods a groom pays to a bride's family in order to express her perceived value and the sincerity of his intention to marry her. Sidi refuses to marry Lakunle if he declines to pay her bride-price because she argues his refusal shows the rest of the village that she is not a virgin and not worthy of payment. Lakunle, on the other hand, argues, along the lines of Western thought, that such a tradition is akin to placing a woman in bondage and a form of oppressing her. More specifically, he lists a series of adjectives he feels expresses the hatefulness of the practice:
A savage custom, barbaric, out-dated,
Rejected, denounced, accursed,
Excommunicated, archaic, degrading,
Humiliating, unspeakable, redundant,
Retrogressive, remarkable, unpalatable.
Yet, interestingly, some of his chosen words have nothing to do with his personal belief he is trying to express, such as excommunicated, redundant, and remarkable, showing just how little he understands the modernized Western culture that he is trying to embrace.