Discuss the theme of culture conflict in The Lion and the Jewel.

Cultural conflict in The Lion and the Jewel takes multiple forms, encompassing issues such as gender, sexuality, age, religion, and industrialization. Much of the conflict plays out through the differing ideals of Baroka, the tradition-minded chief of Ilujinle, and Lakunle, a young schoolteacher who desires modernization, as they compete for the affections of Sidi, a beautiful young woman who seems less interested in philosophies of progress and more concerned with the practicalities of life.

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Cultural conflict forms the heart of The Lion and the Jewel, paralleling the rapid industrialization of Africa during the mid-twentieth century. Soyinka did not write the play as a theoretical rumination on a distant past, but rather as a more pressing examination of how the opposing forces of tradition and modernization operate in modern Africa.

As cultural influences such as Christianity and centralized government and technological advances such as railroads became increasingly prevalent, the people of various African nations typically fell into one of two camps. Lakunle represents those who were fully committed to modernization, oftentimes purely for the sake of a nebulous notion of progress. Baroka, by contrast, represents a more traditional way of life, and he is depicted as having intentionally prevented a railroad from being built through Ilujinle.

However, while most considerations of modernization versus tradition focus on the two suitors, it is actually Sidi who provides the most nuanced insight into the issue. Unlike Lakunle and Baroka, Sidi possesses an appreciation for both the old and the new. She is pleased by the photographer and the idea of having her likeness on a stamp, and she enjoys the widespread recognition of her beauty the photos bring. However, she also still values traditions such as bride prices, and she carries water on her head for convenience.

Essentially, Sidi’s values seem formed by her everyday life. For all that principles and philosophies matter, they cannot wholly account for the lived experience of an individual. For Sidi, the bride price is not necessarily important because of any innate traditional value, but rather because Lakunle’s unwillingness to pay it would be disrespectful and reflect poorly on Sidi in the eyes of the village. Similarly, the photographs are not so much a technological marvel to be appreciated as a symbol of progress, but rather a means by which Sidi’s vanity can be satisfied.

It is this more grounded, utilitarian approach to culture and progress that ultimately makes Sidi and Baroka a better match. Baroka, despite representing a more traditional way of life, states that he does not dislike industrialization or modernization on principle. He simply resents the aspects of so-called progress that insist upon doing away with anything unique or culturally significant as a matter of course.

Lakunle, on the other hand, is so committed to his notions of progress that he is willing to embrace things he has no real context or practical experience with, such as Western art and Christian weddings. For Sidi—and to some extent, Baroka—the balance between tradition and modernization is grounded in the practical and personal realms, whereas for Lakunle, principle trumps common sense.

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The conflicts between cultures in Ilujinle are mainly concerned with the various characters' adherence to or rejection of the traditional Yoruba ways. One of the things that Wole Soyinka imparts is that these conflicts rarely follow clearly drawn lines. Gendered power is one important area where considerable variation appears. While the more "modern" man, Lakunle, sees his attitude toward women and marriage as more progressive than that of Baroka, the old chief, and the villagers in general, the female characters do not necessarily agree.

Eager to marry Sidi, the young schoolmaster Lakunle pursues her with flattery, or so he thinks. But she sees that he is criticizing her for following their culture, including the clothes she wears. His claim that he wants to marry her is considerably weakened when he cannot or will not pay the bride price—an amount owed to her family to help them compensate for the loss of her valued labor and contributions. Sidi sees that he does not value her and insults her family.

Baroka already has one wife, so it could seem she would be jealous or want him to herself. Instead Sadiku wants to help her husband gain another wife. As chief, he is an important man and his having multiple wives will enhance her prestige as well. She takes an active role in the elaborate ploys to trick Sidi into thinking she will be better off with the older man. Woman to woman, she seems to frankly discuss sexual matters, but it turns out things were not quite what they seemed in terms of male virility.

Although the progressive young teacher brings education and other modern benefits, Soyinka shows, simply turning one's back on tradition is not a solution to the village's, or the country's, problems. Old and new, male and female, European and African must be carefully balanced.

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An additional culture clash that can be explored is that between Lakunle's naive, half-formed understanding of Western ideas and their actuality. He wants to modernize the village along Western lines without really comprehending exactly what this will entail in practice. In his own mind Lakunle has a very definite idea of what village life should be like, but without the faintest notion of how to put his idealized picture of Western culture into effect. With such a tenuous grasp of Western ideas, Lakunle's neither one thing nor the other; neither fully African nor fully Westernized. He doesn't hesitate to castigate the villagers as "savages" or try to get Sidi to dress and behave according to Western standards. But at the same time, he hasn't fully internalized those standards himself, and so he still retains an instinctive feel for some of the tribal customs he affects to despise, most notably dancing.

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There are several ways to approach this question:

You could focus on the clash of cultures within the village.  How does the "old" village culture (represented by Baroka) clash with new "westernized" cultural ideas (represented by Lakunle)?

You could focus on the culture of Ilujinle as a whole, and then examine the ways in which it clashes with the culture of the stranger (the one taking photos for his book).

You could also focus on Sidi's bride price and the ways in which it creates conflict between the old and new cultures.

Good luck!

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