The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Lion and the Jewel takes place in Ilujinle, a small African village facing rapid change. As the play begins, it is morning, and the audience sees a marketplace, dominated by an immense odan tree. To the left of the stage is part of the village school, within which the students chant the “Arithmetic Times.” Sidi enters the stage; she is a beautiful, slim girl with plaited hair—the true village belle. Balancing a pail on her head and wearing a broad cloth, Sidi attracts the attention of Lakunle, the young schoolteacher, who looks out the school windows to admire her beauty.

Lakunle, dressed in an old-style, threadbare, unironed English suit, scolds Sidi for carrying the pail on her head, telling her that the weight of the pail will hurt her spine and shorten her neck. He wants her to be a “modern” woman. Sidi, however, quickly reminds him of the times he has sworn that her looks do not affect his love for her. There is a comic exchange of charge and countercharge between the two, revealing Lakunle’s uncomfortable attitude about Sidi’s showing parts of her body: “How often must I tell you, Sidi, that a grown-up girl must cover up her. . . . Her shoulders.”

This first scene also introduces Baroka, the Bale (the village chief): Sixty-two years old, wiry, goateed, he is also attracted by Sidi. The Bale, the opposite of Lakunle, is an artful, traditional man who resists the building of roads and railways, trying to keep his society insulated from “progress.” The dialogue between these two men constitutes the crux of the play: the conservative, clear view of life represented by the Bale versus the progressive sloganeering of Lakunle. Beneath this sociopolitical theme is the other struggle—the war for Sidi’s love.

The second scene of the play, “Noon,” introduces Sadiku, for forty-one years the chief wife in the Bale’s harem. Sadiku,...

(The entire section is 777 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Lion and the Jewel describes the happenings of one day in the village. In the first scene, “Morning,” the dramatist concentrates on the expectations of all three principal characters, the Bale, Lakunle, and Sidi, who are brought together by chance. The stage displays the new—the students chanting the “Arithmetic Times”—and the old: Sidi carrying the pail of water, the traditional work of Nigerian women. Lakunle’s twenty-three-inch-bottom trousers attest his modern “civilized” tendencies. His chauvinistic remark to Sidi, “as a woman, you have a smaller brain than mine,” immediately reveals his conceit to the audience.

Wole Soyinka introduces a metaphor for the modern world in the (unseen) person of the photographer who takes pictures of Sidi; the photographer is presented as a mirror for Lakunle. Four girls begin a chant, dancing around Lakunle; they are then joined by drummers. The girls construct a mime representing the four wheels of a motor car, in another parody of the civilized world. This subtle scene, without dialogue, reveals the true nature of Lakunle as he pinches the “tires,” the girls’ bottoms. The scene comes to an abrupt halt when the Bale enters and playfully accuses Lakunle of stealing the village maidenhead. As the girls chase Lakunle away, the scene ends with the Bale admiring Sidi’s pictures in the magazine.

The second scene, “Noon,” the longest in the play, introduces Sadiku,...

(The entire section is 468 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Bossier, Gregory. “Writers and Their Work: Wole Soyinka.” Dramatist 2 (January/February, 2000): 9.

Coger, Greta M. K. Index of Subjects, Proverbs, and Themes in the Writings of Wole Soyinka. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.

Gibbs, James. Wole Soyinka. New York: Grove Press, 1986.

Gibbs, James, ed. Critical Perspectives on Wole Soyinka. London: Heinemann, 1981.

Jones, Eldred Durosimi. The Writing of Wole Soyinka. 3d ed. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1988.

Soyinka, Wole. Myth, Literature, and the African World. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Wright, Derek. Wole Soyinka: A Life, Work, and Criticism. Indianapolis: Macmillan, 1992.