The Lion and the Jewel Summary
by Wole Soyinka

The Lion and the Jewel book cover
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The Lion and the Jewel Summary

The Lion and the Jewel is a play by Wole Soyinka that dramatizes the courtship of a beautiful woman named Sidi by two very different suitors. 

  • Sidi has two suitors: Lakunle, a hapless schoolteacher who professes to want a modern marriage, and Baroka, the elderly, polygamist village leader.
  • Sidi, emboldened by the fact that her photos were recently in a magazine, rejects both men.
  • Upon learning that Baroka is impotent, Sidi plots to humiliate him. However, her plan backfires, as Baroka lied about his impotence to lure Sidi to him.
  • Baroka sexually assaults Sidi, and she becomes his newest wife.

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Summary

Wole Soyinka’s play The Lion and the Jewel is set in Ilujinle, a Yoruba village in Nigeria. It dramatizes two very different mens’ efforts to woo Sidi, a beautiful young woman. One of the suitors is Lakunle, a young, idealistic schoolteacher who refuses to pay Sidi’s bride price because he believes it is an old-fashioned and demeaning tradition. The other suitor is Baroka, the elderly leader of Ilujinle, who wants to make Sidi a part of his harem. However, Sidi rejects both men: Lakunle for refusing to pay her bride price, and Baroka due to his advanced age.

The play takes place over the course of a single day and is divided into three scenes: Morning, Noon, and Night. On Sunday morning, Sidi walks past Lakunle’s schoolhouse with a pail of water balanced on her head, and he interrupts his lesson to talk to her. Lakunle admonishes her for her traditional behavior and dress while also asserting his belief that men are superior to women in matters of intelligence. They argue until Lakunle begins to plead with Sidi to marry him. Sidi reminds him that she will marry him as long as he follows tradition and pays her bride price. Lakunle protests, speaking of his desire to enjoy a modern marriage with Sidi, and he kisses her to prove his point. Sidi is repulsed by his kiss, and she accuses him of trying to avoid paying her bride price.

A group of village children interrupt Sidi and Lakunle to tell them that the stranger from Lagos who took Sidi’s photographs prior to the start of the play has returned to the village. The stranger has brought his collection of photographs with him, and the cover of the magazine he works for features a beautiful photograph of Sidi. Many photographs of Sidi appear in the book, while only one photograph of Baroka, the leader of the village, is present. Sidi is exhilarated by her appearance in the book, claiming she is too good to marry the village schoolteacher; Lakunle laments the change in his status in Sidi’s eyes. Sidi leads the village children in a dance that reenacts the arrival of the photographer, recruiting Lakunle to play the photographer in their play. When Baroka interrupts their play, Lakunle suggests Baroka should not be wasting time on children’s games, but Baroka insists that the play continue, mocking Lakunle in his role and admiring Sidi and her beauty. As the scene ends, Baroka holds the magazine in his hands and admires the pictures of Sidi. He reflects on the fact that he has not taken a new wife in five months.

The next scene takes place in the middle of the day. Sidi walks, still fixated on her photographs in the magazine, as Lakunle carries her firewood. Sadiku, Baroka’s first wife and personal matchmaker, approaches Sidi with news: Baroka would like to marry her. Sidi responds to Sadiku by asserting her newfound power as the jewel of Ilujinle and rejecting Baroka’s offer of marriage. According to Sidi, Baroka is too old; worse, he is interested in Sidi only because she will make him famous. Sidi’s boldness shocks Sadiku. When Sadiku asks Sidi to consider joining Baroka at his home for a feast in her honor, Sidi also refuses, claiming that she knows Baroka’s tricks; Sidi suspects that Baroka will take advantage of her sexually if she accepts his invitation. Lakunle echoes Sidi’s suspicions and tells the two women a story about Baroka’s successful...

(The entire section is 1,257 words.)