The Lion and The Jewel main character Sidi sitting in the middle of the picture wearing a striped dress with the outlines of two male faces on other side of her

The Lion and the Jewel

by Wole Soyinka

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Last Updated on May 21, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 805

On a road near the market in Ilujinle, Sidi walks while looking at the magazine containing her pictures; Lakunle follows her while carrying firewood. Sadiku, an older woman and Baroka’s first wife, approaches them. Sadiku tells Sidi that she has been sent by Baroka with the news that he wants Sidi to be his newest wife. Lakunle protests dramatically, but Sidi tells him to leave her alone so that she can make the most of her beauty. Sadiku asks Sidi for her answer, but Sidi, who claims that her “fame has spread to Lagos / And beyond the seas,” refuses to oblige. Sadiku tries to persuade Sidi to say yes to Baroka, describing a life of ease and privilege as Baroka’s new favorite wife. Sidi rejects Sadiku’s claims, wondering why Baroka did not notice her before the photographs appeared; Sidi goes on to describe Baroka as a man who “seeks new fame” by marrying her. Sadiku is shocked by Sidi’s boldness and threatens to beat Lakunle, blaming his influence on Sidi for her audacity. Sidi defends Lakunle, telling Sadiku that Baroka is too old for her and reveling in her beauty and youth. Sadiku is amazed by Sidi’s excessive pride but tells her that Baroka has invited Sidi to a feast in her honor. Sidi rejects the invitation, suspecting Baroka of having ulterior motives. Sadiku dismisses the rumors to which Sidi refers.

At this point in the conversation, Lakunle takes Sidi’s side, talking of Baroka’s “wiliness” and describing for both women a situation involving “the Public Works attempt / To build the railways through Ilujinle” to prove his point. As Lakunle tells the story, actors representing prisoners and a white surveyor enter the scene. Onstage, the foreman of the workers directs the prisoners, and they dig to the rhythmic sounds of a percussive instrument; the men sing while they work. Lakunle explains to Sidi and Sadiku that the railway would have brought Ilujinle into the modern world; at this point in Lakunle’s story, Baroka enters the scene to observe the workers. A bullroarer sounds, distracting the workers, and soon, the foreman and his workers retreat, leaving only the surveyor behind. Baroka gives the surveyor a calabash bowl full of money, adding more goods and banknotes to the pile until the surveyor accepts the bribe and halts the development of the railway. As the men file offstage, Lakunle “shakes his fist at them,” lamenting the selfishness of Baroka, who prefers to keep his village uncivilized so that he may live in peace with his wives and concubines. As Lakunle drones on, the two women laugh quietly to each other and leave the stage. Lakunle’s monologue ends with his pledge to marry Sidi, whom he calls his soulmate; only when he stops talking does he notice that he is alone onstage.

Baroka is home in bed, accompanied by Ailatu, his current favorite wife. She is pulling hairs from his armpit carefully, rubbing the area around each individual hair gently before yanking out the single hair. This process pleases Baroka, who instructs Ailatu to pull harder; when she promises to learn his preferred technique quickly, he tells her that she has no time to learn, because he intends to take another wife that night. Baroka then scolds Ailatu for pulling the next hair too hard, observing that she has intentionally tried to inflict pain upon hearing the news of his impending marriage. Sadiku appears in his bedroom, and Baroka sends Ailatu away, demanding an ointment to “soothe the smart of [his] misused armpit.”

Sadiku tells Baroka of Sidi’s strange behavior in response to...

(This entire section contains 805 words.)

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his proposal of marriage. Baroka asks her if Sidi complained about his age; Sadiku tells him the truth, that Sidi did in fact mention his age, and Baroka makes a lengthy speech describing all the ways in which he can demonstrate strength and youthfulness. He pauses to ask Sadiku to comfort him, and while she tickles his feet, Baroka looks at the pictures of Sidi in the magazine, comparing her photographs to his own. When he puts down the magazine, he tells Sadiku that Sidi’s rejection is probably for the best; if Sidi were to marry him “and [his] purpose failed,” he would be humiliated. Sadiku is confused by Baroka’s mysterious explanations, so Baroka elaborates: he has been impotent for nearly a week, and he wants Sidi for a wife in order to revive his sexual appetite. He tells Sadiku that though his forefathers sired children well into their sixties, he accepts his fate as a man struck down too early. Sadiku promises him that she will tell no one about his shame. Before Baroka falls asleep, he talks poetically of all the women he has loved and calls Sadiku “the queen of them all.”