The Lion and the Jewel is about the attempts of two men, Lakunle and Baroka, to win the hand of the fetching Sidi in marriage. Lakunle, a school teacher, symbolizes the Western point of view towards women. He, for example, does not want to pay a dowry, which is a traditional practice. While he believes that traditional practices such as the dowry are barbaric, his ways are condescending as well. He lectures Sidi about the revealing clothing she wears, and he doesn't understand her reasoning for wanting him to pay the dowry—that people will assume she isn't a virgin if he doesn't pay her bride price.
Baroka, the chieftain of the Yoruba village, is a traditional man. He has many wives, and he asks his oldest wife, Sadiku, to try to win over Sidi. He attempts to use flattery to woo Sidi, promising her that she can have a special place as his last wife. When that doesn't entirely work, he tricks her by pretending to have lost his manhood. This is a lie, and, in the end, his trickery and flattery win Sidi over, and she decides to marry him. While Lakunle promises Sidi a more modern life, it is Baroka's experience with women and his cunning that make him the victor in the competition for Sidi's hand.
In regards to the role of women in society, Lakunle and Baroka initially appear to have drastically different opinions throughout the play. Lakunle favors modernity and believes that women should have increased opportunities to learn and participate in the economy. He disagrees with the Yoruba tradition of paying a bride-price and believes that women should have the option to marry who they love. Lakunle does not view women as property and is in favor of their rights. However, at the end of the play, it is revealed that Lakunle's ideas are insincere, and he only wishes to avoid paying the bride-price because he cannot afford it. In contrast, Baroka supports the tradition of buying a wife and treating women like they are possessions. He lacks respect for females and manipulates them throughout the play by continually lying and deceiving them. Baroka views women as sexual objects whose only use is satisfying his desires. He does not believe that they should have educational and economic opportunities like Lakunle initially promotes. However, both characters view women as less intelligent than men and ridicule them throughout the play. Overall, Soyinka portrays both men as shallow, selfish individuals who have less than favorable views towards women and their roles in society.