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 Bale’s head wife. She and Sidi now command the stage, and Sadiku begins her wooing of Sidi for the Bale. Another metaphor for progress appears onstage. The surveyor and his workers, who want to build a railroad, are bought off by the Bale, to Lakunle’s disgust. The scene shifts to the Bale’s house, where, attended by his harem, he conceives his plan to fool and subsequently win Sidi. The scene ends with the Bale’s announcement of his loss of virility.
The last scene, “Night,” begins with Sidi and Sadiku celebrating the Bale’s loss of his manliness. Sidi enters his house, and the Bale begins his seduction in earnest. His outrageous sexual imagery goes unnoticed by Sidi, but not by the audience. The mummers enter and perform a dance of virility: the Bale’s story.
The winning of Sidi by the Bale is logical and right. His concern is for life; Lakunle’s is for rhetoric. Lakunle plans to “civilize” her by marrying her, without considering Sidi’s own feelings and desires. The expectations of reformer Lakunle are stifled in the face of the Bale’s cunning and expertise. Lakunle’s own follies result in his loss of Sidi. The audience’s last glimpse of him, however, portends a man losing his delusions and returning to his true self—a typical human being, fascinated by the physical attractions of the opposite sex.
Themes and Meanings
The Lion and the Jewel, on one level, is a comedy about love. Lakunle, the naïve, modernist schoolteacher, attempts to win Sidi’s love by teaching her about the “new” woman’s role, a role based largely on Western society. Opposing him is the shrewd Bale, striving to win Sidi’s love by any means he can, including the ruse about his supposed impotence.
Lakunle’s dress and speech indicate the shallowness of his role of reformer: His clothes show his rejection of the traditional dress of the villages, and his speech expresses his undigested ideas comically. He...
(The entire section is 852 words.)