The primary theme of The Lion and the Jewel is that of tradition vs. modernism. Throughout the play, the two primary characters fight over the affections of Sidi, who is the "jewel" of the play. She is sought after for her great beauty on both sides. On one side is Lakunle, a schoolteacher who has embraced the modern values of western civilization, and on the other is Baroka, a tribal chief who represents the traditional values of Nigeria and the "lion" represented in the title.
Sidi, being unsure of whose feelings to reciprocate, is representative of the Nigerian people's indecision of whether to commit to progressiveness or cling to the traditionalism of Nigeria. Perhaps fittingly, Sidi is tricked into sleeping with Baroka at the end of the play.
Wole Soyinka examines several themes throughout the play The Lion and the Jewel. He explores the themes of modernity versus tradition. Lakunle favors Western civilization and wishes that his village of Ilujinle would embrace modernity. In contrast, Baroka represents traditional Yoruba culture and thwarts continued efforts to modernize his village. Soyinka also examines the concepts of masculinity and femininity throughout the play. Sidi, the village jewel, is desired only for her beauty. In traditional Yoruba culture, women are essentially possessions and are bought with the payment of the bride-price. In traditional Yoruba culture, strength, vitality, and sexual prowess are revered, and Baroka is ridiculed for his assumed impotence. Once Baroka is said to be impotent, he loses respect throughout the village. Soyinka also explores the theme of power. Once Sidi becomes famous from her published images in a foreign magazine, she becomes conceited and wishes to be revered above the Bale. The Bale also cherishes power and fears becoming old and irrelevant.