What is the conflict between tradition and modernity in Wole Soyinka's play The Lion and the Jewel?

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The conflict in the play, set in Nigeria in the 1950s, is between indigenous tribal tradition and western modernity. This is a period in which countries in Africa were achieving their independence from colonial rule and were faced with choices and pressures about how to develop.

The play's schoolteacher Lakunle represents the West (European and other "modern" countries). He wears a modern western suit and believes the villagers need to adopt Western educational objectives and Western ways. He believes in progress and feels his fellow countryman need to leave tribal customs behind if they are going to make it in the modern world.

Baroka, the village chief, represents the traditional tribal culture. His power lies in that culture, and he is comfortable in it. He resists the changes Lakunle wishes to bring to the community. He is a wise older man who does not necessarily see change as improvement.

Lakunle is not as progressive as he might think, showing the way tribal culture influenced even Nigerians who thought they were modern and progressive. For example, he thinks of women as property. Nevertheless, he well represents the embrace of the new that was causing upheaval in village life in his time period.

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In the play The Lion and the Jewel, Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka portrays a theme representative of his Nigerian people: their desire to believe that past village traditions of Nigeria are no longer useful for sustaining culture yet also their inability to let go of their traditions because they see their beauty and power. Hence, the conflict in the play concerns the traditions of village life vs. the desires to modernize. Different characters represent traditions and modernization.

 Lakunle, the schoolteacher, represents the desire for modernization. One example of his modernization is seen in the fact that he rejects the village's traditional style of clothing and instead prefers to wear an "old-style English suit." He also speaks of Western ideals; for example, he refuses to pay Sidi's bride-price because he feels the custom subjugates her. In contrast, she feels the custom shows the village her worth.

 Both Sidi and her other suitor, Baroka, the man she decides to marry, represent Nigerian tradition. Sidi, in contrast to Lakunle, prefers to hold on to village traditions. Likewise, Baroka, who is the village chief, refuses to modernize the village.

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