The Lion and the Jewel Themes
by Wole Soyinka

The Lion and the Jewel book cover
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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.

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Themes

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...

(The entire section is 946 words.)