Some of the themes in Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel include male chauvinism, marriage and love, deceit, modernity versus tradition, and, virility and cowardice.
Theme of Male Chauvinism
This is a belief in the innate superiority of men over women. The theme of male chauvinism is clearly portrayed in Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel. We first catch a glimpse of this in the dialogue between Lakunle and Sidi in which the former attributes the latter’s inability to comprehend what he is saying to the generic inferiority of women.
He claims that Sidi, as a woman, has a smaller brain than his. He backs his claim with the fact that it has been scientifically proven that “women have a smaller brain than men”; hence, “they are called the weaker sex”. But Sidi questions this claim:
“The weaker sex, is it?The Lion and the Jewel
Is it a weaker breed who pounds yam
Or bends all day to plant the millet
With a child strapped to her back?”
This dialogue is a reference to the male dominant African society and the role of second fiddle women play in the traditional African society.
Another pointer to the theme of male chauvinism is rooted in how the women are manipulated by the men in the text. Sidi for one is influenced by Lakunle’s worldview and later manipulated by the wily village head, Baroka. The Lion and the Jewel portrays the women world as one that can be easily manipulated by the male folks.
Theme of Marriage and Love
Sidi is the centre of attraction in the play. Her beauty endears her to the village men and of course, the visiting stranger. Baroka and Lakunle show their love for Sidi in their own individual ways.
The marriage institution is also well foregrounded in The Lion and the Jewel. While Lakunle hopes to seek Sidi’s attention through flowery language and his promise of an equal union, Baroka takes a more practical approach in inducting Sidi into his harem of wives. In the end, Sidi marries Baroka.
The theme of deceit manifests through Baroka. He lies to Sadiku, a loose tongue, about his being impotent. Sadiku in turn spreads the news about Baroka’s humiliation. It is on the premise of this lie that Sidi decides to honour Baroka’s invitation to sup with him.
Sidi would not have honoured Baroka’s invitation had she known she was being deceived. And if she hadn’t, she would not have felt Baroka’s sexual prowess and consequently, might not have married him.
Let’s put the probabilities aside. Baroka wins Sidi’s heart through deceit.
Modernity versus Tradition
Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel shows the growing discrepancy between European values and African traditional values. The play reflects the post-colonial realities of the African continent.
Western education produced a new category of Africans who embraced European values totally but saw everything African as backward, barbaric, archaic and retrogressive. In The Lion and the Jewel, Lakunle is an archetype of such Africans. He rejects the long-standing practice of bride price. He condemns every African tradition that seems to stand parallel to the European values he espouses.
Baroka, by virtue of his position as the Village Head, is on the other side of the fringe. He is the custodian of African customs, culture and tradition. While he acknowledges the importance and the indispensability of Western education in his village, he abhors any Western value or the intrusion of civilization that would undermine his power or render useless his relevance and efficacy. To this effect, he influences the diversion of railtrack from Ilujinle and also frowns at some of the views Misita Lakunle (as he calls him) holds. Take for example, the one-day off (holiday) Lakunle enforces on the palace workers in line with the working conditions found in the civil service or similar enterprise established by the European colonialists.
In between these two characters stands Sidi who is affected by the views held by the duo.
While Lakunle is bent on bringing civilization to Ilujinle, Baroka is interested in maintaining the status quo as it is. The Lion and the Jewel is thus a play that addresses the conflict between tradition and modernity.
Virility and Cowardice
This again is manifested in the comparison of the two main male characters, Lakunle and Baroka — this time not of their ideas but of their approaches to Sidi. They both employ different approaches in winning Sidi’s heart. Lakunle makes passes at Sidi and claims to love her. He however is not ready to pay her bride price despite wanting to marry her. Sidi who is very conscious of her feminine pride and dignity will not marry Lakunle because of his refusal to pay her bride price.
Baroka on the other hand is ready to go any length to make Sidi his even if he has to be deceitful in the process. He withholds nothing to achieve this. At an advanced age of sixty-two, he exhibits virility and energy which Lakunle, still in his twenties, cannot boast of.
Sidi credits Baroka for living up to his title, “the Lion”, and for being a real man while she describes Lakunle as a “beardless version of unripened man”.
What other themes do you find in The Lion and the Jewel? Tell us in the comment box.