Today, we would be looking into the character of Lakunle in Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel. He is one the major characters in the play and very significant in the plot development of the play. He is, to start with, the foil of Baroka. Now, let’s take a brief look at the character of Lakunle.
Who is Lakunle?
Lakunle is a village school teacher in Ilujinle Village. He is said to be in his early twenties, adjudged more precisely to be “nearly twenty-three”. He makes passes at Sidi and claims to love her and wants to marry her.
He is an archetype of confused educated Africans who embrace European values at the peril of their cultural heritage and antecedents.
Lakunle is clearly a hypocritical character and somehow difficult to understand. He is the type of individual one may say has double mouths. He says or does something now and the next minute, he says or does the contrary.
This is exemplified in his refusal to pay Sidi’s bride price while claiming that Sidi is meant to be his equal, not a subordinate or an inferior in the affair of marriage. By this, he advocates for gender equality. It is however surprising that this same Lakunle would say women have smaller brains than men, implying that women are inferior to men – a brazen contradiction of his previous stance about gender equality.
Lakunle also believes that African values are barbaric, outdated, archaic and degrading but this doesn’t stop him from joining the traditional dance initiated by Sadiku and others when a lady threw her buttocks at him provocatively.
Undoubtedly, Lakunle is just a pretentious character who thinks he is above everyone else because of his foretaste of the European civilization but who in actual fact lacks the wisdom and understanding to harmonise both Western values and African values and put the end result into a good use.
Sidi’s appraisal of Lakunle in comparison with Baroka establishes that Lakunle is weak, lacks in physical strength and wit, and, passes for what Sidi calls “book-nourished shrimp”.
In what way does Lakunle contribute to the plot development of the play?
There is no doubt that Lakunle is an important character in The Lion and the Jewel. His perversion of the long established custom of bride price brings Baroka into the frame of suitors seeking Sidi’s hand in marriage. The dialogue between Sidi and Lakunle before the arrival of the glossy magazines shows that Sidi is willing to marry Lakunle on the condition that he pays her bride price. Lakunle’s refusal to oblige to her request stretches the plot and allows the lizard of Baroka to peer into the cracked wall.
Lakunle, in spite of his excesses, is the voice of education in the village. His influence is seen in every part of the play. He brainwashes Sidi with ideals informed by his education. He makes Baroka adopt a milder approach towards education. His influence also finds its way into Baroka’s palace where he educates the palace workers and attendants of their intrinsic right to have a day off. Hence, when Sidi goes to Baroka’s palace, the place is almost empty, save for the presence of Baroka and the wrestler; the workers are on their day off.
Lakunle participates actively in the plays staged within the play. For example, in the first play enacted by the characters which recalls the coming of a stranger to the village and the origin of the glossy magazines, Lakunle plays the improvised role of the stranger during the mime.
In all, Lakunle can be aptly put as an alienated African with black body but white soul.