The Lion and the Jewel Themes

The main themes in The Lion and the Jewel are vanity, gender roles, and tradition versus progress.

  • Vanity: Vanity is Sidi’s downfall, as her belief in her own beauty and superiority causes her to underestimate Baroka, which allows him to take advantage of her.
  • Gender roles: Ilujinle is a patriarchal community, with Baroka proving his masculinity and power through sexual and physical conquests. When Sidi challenges Baroka’s masculinity, he punishes her and reestablishes the traditional gender hierarchy.
  • Tradition versus progress: Whereas Lakunle embraces the forces of modernization, characters like Baroka and Sadiku view modernization as a threat to traditional ways of life.

Themes

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Last Reviewed on May 21, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 946

Vanity

At the beginning of the play, Sidi is established as a headstrong and beautiful young woman. Sidi appears confident from the start, but after observing herself from the point of view of an outsider to her village, her confidence transforms into conceit.

When Sidi sees her photographs in the...

(The entire section contains 946 words.)

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Vanity

At the beginning of the play, Sidi is established as a headstrong and beautiful young woman. Sidi appears confident from the start, but after observing herself from the point of view of an outsider to her village, her confidence transforms into conceit.

When Sidi sees her photographs in the outsider’s magazine, she becomes fixated on her appearance and her potential power as the jewel of Ilujinle. Sidi grows reckless, distracted by her deepening vanity and blinded by hubris. At first, Sidi tests her newfound superiority on Lakunle, but she is not satisfied by her emotional victory over the hapless schoolteacher; to prove herself as a powerful force, she seeks to dominate Baroka, the Bale of the village, after learning of his desire to marry her.

Sidi’s excessive pride becomes her downfall when she challenges Baroka and attempts to play a humiliating trick on him. When Sidi’s attempt to disrespect Baroka backfires, he teaches her a lesson by violent means, reinforcing to Sidi that her place in a traditionally patriarchal society is one of a submissive wife rather than an outspoken and opinionated young woman. Baroka rapes her as punishment for her transgression, and her decision to marry him afterward suggests that she accepts him as her superior.

Sadiku also becomes arrogant when Baroka lies to her about his impotence. Baroka flatters Sadiku, implying to her that she is the most important and respected of all his wives. Baroka’s craftiness gives Sadiku more confidence in her position as first wife. She becomes so self-assured in her role that she seeks to take advantage of her position and use the secret of Baroka’s allegedly lost manhood to mock him. Sadiku, like Sidi, is punished for her arrogance when her true nature is exposed; both women fall from elevated positions, learning by the end of the play that any attempt to outsmart the Bale will prove futile.

Gender Roles

The residents of Ilujinle both adhere to traditional gender roles and challenge them at various points in the play. Sidi’s boldly confrontational nature and Sadiku’s untrustworthiness both violate traditional gender norms, which require women to be deferential to men, but by the end of the play, they learn to live according to tradition. Simultaneously, while Baroka’s position as leader of the village means he has a responsibility to his villagers, his power enables him to take advantage of his position.

Sidi’s responses to Lakunle are often barbed, revealing her scorn for Lakunle and her utter disregard for his opinions. Sidi occupies the position of power in her relationship with Lakunle, taking charge by demanding her bride price and by flaunting her newfound fame. She taunts Lakunle with her beauty and the impression she has made on both the photographer and Baroka.

Though Sidi repeatedly wins the conflicts that characterize her relationship with Lakunle, when she is emboldened by Sadiku’s secret to challenge Baroka, she loses. Thanks to Baroka’s wily ways, Sadiku’s understanding of her power over Baroka is specious, and her mistaken confidence in her position swells when the Bale makes his false confession of impotence. Sadiku falls for his trick and leads Sidi to do the same, confirming that Baroka’s position as the male superior is immovable.

Baroka’s aggressive sexual appetite for Sidi both reinforces and breaches gender norms. When Baroka describes the virility of his forefathers, he establishes that the Bale is expected to father children well into his sixties. As leader of the village, Baroka also has a paternal role over his villagers, but his lust for Sidi surpasses his sense of fatherly responsibility, especially when he decides he has a point to prove to her about their respective positions in the community.

Tradition versus Progress

Each major character in the play expresses an opinion about the notion of progress. Lakunle is the only character who supports modernization, but he is not a credible source of information. Other characters in the play mock him, and he is unaware of his own displays of ignorance. That Lakunle possesses a provincial mindset regarding gender norms suggests that his version of progress is incomplete or misguided. Lakunle lacks self-awareness and common sense, which renders his character and his musings about progress untrustworthy.

Sidi, Sadiku, and Baroka all oppose progress, revealing their resistance to change in different ways. For example, Lakunle’s idealized perceptions of Lagos and other modern cities mean little to Sidi; his words at times elevate her and her potential status as his wife, but she mocks his notions of equality, especially when he asserts his belief that men are more intelligent than women. Sidi and Sadiku resist change even though change might mean more equality for women; both women prefer traditional ways of life for their ideological safety and practicality. Ironically, Sidi would rather be possessed by Baroka, the Bale of the village, than be subjected to the modern marriage between equals that Lakunle suggests.

Baroka states that progress is simply a way to ensure that all people conform to new norms. He believes that everything will become mechanized, resulting in an unfortunate sameness. Baroka fears the repetition and boredom of such a life. Tradition works much better for Baroka than progress; if modernity arrives in Ilujinle, he may become less able to enjoy his wives, present and future, as women may develop opinions that limit his pleasure. Already, Baroka understands how modern notions like a union enable his servants to take time off from work; the servants may be happier now that they have unionized, but Baroka resents their time away from his jurisdiction, believing that their position as his underlings should be constant.

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