The play takes place in a small traditional African village that is being threatened by the encroachment of the modern world. The Bale refuses to allow this to happen and shows that he will do whatever is necessary to keep his village the way it has always been by paying off the surveyor who wants to build a railroad. The central theme is the strugggle between the traditional and modern worlds, yet it also portrays a struggle between the Bale and Lakunle for Sidi, the most desired young woman of the village.
The characters in the play represent both worlds. Lakunle, the young schoolteacher, symbolizes progress, and the Bale, the village chief, represents tradition. Lakunle is depicted as a young buffoon while the Bale is the older, wiser, and slier protagonist. Lakunle is poorly prepared as the reformer who equates civilization with success. He's never able to support his beliefs; in fact, his words and actions show us how shallow he truly is. Lakunle stands no chance against the Bale. In the end, Lakunle loses Sidi, but he leaves the audience with the impression that he has become a human being who has given up his delusional reforms. The Bale wins Sidi through his cunning and deceit, and he never stops trying to win her over. The fact that he finally tricks her into giving herself to him does not offend the audience because we like the Bale.
Sidi and Sadiku are trapped by the traditional ways of the village, but they are portrayed as intelligent women who aren't fooled by Lakunle and the Bale. Sidi symbolizes all of the people who are torn between the old and the new ways, but in the end, their traditions, represented by the Bale, win out. Sadiku celebrates when she believes the Bale is impotent, allowing her inner feelings toward the Bale to surface.
In this play, setting is extremely important because this story cannot have a universal setting. The story demands that the setting must take place in a part of the world that is steeped in tradition and in a place that has not yet been changed by Western civilization. Therefore, the impact of the setting on the characters and their growth is great.