In The Lion and the Jewel, Wole Soyinka conveys the struggles for control between two women and two men in rural Nigeria. Two closely related themes structure these conflicts. One is the interplay between gender and power, and the other is the conflict between modernity and tradition.
Soyinka’s exploration of gender as a key factor in power is linked to the characters’ marital possibilities. Lakunle’s ego convinces him that Sidi is certain to choose him, so he ignores the very evident power dynamics. Although Baroka (also called the Bale) is very different from Lakunle in many ways, both men make assumptions about male dominance. Neither Sidi nor Sadiku accepts the simplistic notion that men control every aspect of society, and they employ diverse methods of showing how much power they have.
The theme of modernity and tradition as competing forces was a prominent issue in Soyinka’s day. Lakunle is the primary representative of modernity, which the playwright presents as a mixed blessing. Sidi is a modern woman in many regards, but she also acutely perceives the benefits of traditional lifeways. Similarly, while the Bale embodies tradition, he is shown as open to those aspects of change that are likely to prove beneficial to him and many villagers. His senior wife, Sadiku, actively supports the traditional polygamous marriage and convinces Sidi to see its benefits. Sidi’s decision to choose Baroka over Lakunle, despite the older man's sexual assault, shows her view that women may have more advantates in traditional than modern marital arrangements.