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.)