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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How are women presented in Wole Soyinka's The Lion and the Jewel?

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Wole Soyinka presents women in the play The Lion and the Jewel as being caught up in the battle between tradition and modernity. There’s no sense in which women, in the shape of Sidi, get to decide how they should live their lives. This is because they are denied independence by both of these opposing worldviews.

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At the heart of The Lion and the Jewel is a fierce battle between tradition and modernity. When Soyinka wrote the play, there were deep tensions between those who wanted Nigeria to become more Westernized and modern and those who favored the maintenance of traditional values. And these tensions are played out in the battle between Baroka and Lakunle over Sidi, whom the two men both wish to marry.

Though Baroka and Lakunkle have radically opposing worldviews—Baroka is a traditionalist whereas Lakunkle is thoroughly Westernized—they both share the same attitudes towards women. Neither of them looks upon women as capable of leading independent lives; they firmly believe that women must remain dependent on their husbands. The idea of Sidi, or any other woman for that matter, going off and doing her own thing simply doesn’t occur to either of them for a moment.

If the fate of Sidi is anything to go by, then the outlook for Nigerian women is pretty grim, to say the least. This is because the impression one gets from the play is that both traditionalism and modernity ultimately exist for the benefit of men, not women. This leaves women—even strong, independent-minded women like Sidi—pretty much at the mercy of a patriarchal society, be it traditional or modern, that marginalizes and controls them.

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In The Lion and the Jewel, women are considered the second sex, inherently meant for serving men. Unlike other men in his society, Lakunle seeks a woman to be his life partner, and not because of her abilities to cook, clean, and fetch water. Sidi is firmly rooted in tradition and asserts that any marriage is possible provided the dowry is paid. She rejects Lakunle’s advances even though he is well-educated and civilized. Wole Soyinka, through the character of Sidi, portrays women as ignorant and old-fashioned.

Lakunle: Ignorant girl, can you not understand?
To pay the price would be
To buy a heifer off the market stall.

Women are also portrayed as submissive and lesser beings in society who are not supposed to make decisions. Lakunle is planning to “civilize” Sidi by marrying her, without considering her desires and feelings. Lakunle’s remark to Sidi, “as a woman, you have a smaller brain than mine,” presents women as unintelligent.

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The title gives a strong hint about how women are portrayed throughout the play: the "jewel" in question is the beautiful woman Sidi, who is reduced to a coveted object that two men in particular want to possess. These men are the elderly Baroka, the "lion," and the young, western-educated school teacher Lakunle.

Throughout the play women are treated as objects and as subordinate to men. Lakunle, for instance, assumes the unquestioning right early in the play to tell Sidi she should not show so much cleavage or carry a pail on her head. He also asserts dominance by informing her that she has a smaller brain that of a man. After that less than endearing beginning, he tells her he loves her.

Later, during a village performance, the women assume the parts of the wheels of the car, while Lakunle is the driver, again illustrating the subordinate position of women in this society.

Women's status as possessions is shown most clearly in the behavior of Baroka, the lion, who has collected a multitude of wives the way one might collect china. We see him telling one of his wives, who is plucking out his armpit hairs, that he plans to take yet another wife but will allow her to be the only one who gets to pluck his armpit hairs. This comment is half teasing and half manipulative (Baroka wants her to pull harder), but it also illustrates the way women are owned and subordinated in this society.

Women like Sidi do show verve, strength, and agency, but in the end fall in line with traditional cultural values. Sidi, for example, thinks it is shameful that Laklune does not want to pay the bride price for her. 

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Wole Soyinka presents women as unintelligent individuals who are admired for their physical beauty and seek independence throughout the play The Lion and the Jewel. Women are also depicted as possessions, which is evident in the payment of the bride-price. Sidi is portrayed as a beautiful girl who becomes conceited after her image is published in a popular magazine. Sidi's confident attitude changes her perspective on life, and she wishes to be revered throughout her village. She foolishly attempts to mock Baroka, but is wooed into sleeping with the Bale after he shows her a machine that produces stamps. Sadiku is also portrayed as foolish because she believes Baroka and spreads the false rumor that he is impotent. Baroka uses Sadiku as a pawn in his plan to marry Sidi. Sadiku also celebrates and recounts how she "scotched" Okiki, Baroka's father. Both Sidi and Sadiku are portrayed as unintelligent females who are at the mercy of men and viewed as possessions throughout the play.

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