Juxtapose the characters of Baroka and Lakunle in Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel.
Baroka and Lakunle in The Lion and the Jewel are the major characters around whom the central theme of the play revolves. They are portrayed as spectacular figures whose dramatic parts in the conflict are pivotal to the playwright’s witty but subtle exposition of female objectification in a patriarchal world. That is, all class of men are wont to maximise the ribald utility that surfaces in their chance grab of female vulnerability. All men are the same. And accordingly, Baroka and Lakunle’s egotistical sense of entitlement becomes the tapestry of deceit and conceitedness by which Sidi loses her innocence.
It is critical to the conflict of the play that Soyinka largely explores both men’s virtues in their earnest intentions. We could say Lakunle is proud but Baroka is humble. In their tact to win Sidi over, both men expend their divergent experiences in weakening Sidi’s self-esteem. Lakunle’s attempt at denigrating Sidi’s pride comes down to his conceitedness from being the only formally educated man in Ilujinle . Rather than accept the existing customs of the land as viable, he denounces it with the limited worldview of Western criticism on life as defined by culture and nativity. He tries to manipulate Sidi by verbally assailing her revered custom and traditional principles of assessing the sensibility of martial expectations. And he fatally fails, being too sophisticated to be wise!
Conversely, Baroka employs folk wisdom by which he wittily unseats the child’s exuberance of her negotiable beauty. He does not expect that Sidi will submit so easily because he is the village viceroy; he acknowledges that Sidi is not obliged to give in to his overtures. This is so because he himself passes for the repository of ancestral values that should neither be trampled by acculturation nor devalued by cynical motives buoyed by impatience and exalted social standing. This is how he trounces Lakunle’s ideology off the ground. There has to be an acceptance of existing culture without which the (un)invited variant loses its credibility. This establishes the instrumentation of virtues in achieving our desires besides the fortune of privilege, chance and eligibility. For that matter, Baroka and Lakunle are absurdist characters whose roles depict the inexhaustible criticism of our parallel differences that count for the execution of our dreams and purposes for living.
However, both men exemplify the excesses of men with regard to women’s vulnerability. All class of men could maximise women’s cultural subordination; they could make marriage happen only to satisfy their own desires and never (and as against) the woman’s choice. Any class of men – primitive or sophisticated – can marry a woman simply to demonstrate achievement based on the unsuspecting woman’s unique endowment with physical, spiritual, economic, social charm.
Neither Baroka nor Lakunle wants Sidi for a wife because she readily chooses them: they both picture the trophy reference in possessing a young lady like Sidi whose beauty is unrivaled in pageantry throughout the village and even to the city, telling from the magazine. Both of them find a justification for their dignified lust. Any man can. Any woman can serve the purpose no matter the level of her dignity as an exalted figure since her match is always waiting ahead. From the play we can infer that time and again, the primitive and the educated man’s idea of a wife is invariably laced with some utilitarian appeal that still relegates the woman to satisfying the man’s ego for whatever he is distinguished for – or even influences the woman to believe he is. All men can take to the weaponry of sugarcoated tongue to colonise a woman’s mind into marriage. This is a given position supported by the socio-cultural norm attributed to gender expectations and responsibilities. The woman is thought to exist as an object of satisfaction for the man. This is the gibbous socio-cultural clou on which Baroka and Lakunle’s rivalry is suggestively hinged.
Again, both men are contrasted by their sense of the price. Akin to the playwright’s exposition of their virtues, Lakunle and Baroka weigh value differently, and this in turn spells their individual sense of responsibility as potential winners whose victory will depend on their readiness. Lakunle’s degradation of the bride price custom, which he thinks is buying “a heifer off the market stall”, pre-establishes the ridicule that women undergo for making choices compensatory to the near anguish of adapting to the patriarchal world. It follows that Lakunle refuses to suspend his modernist impudence, being the shortcoming of the would-be spouse whose marriage will be given the narrative of a patchwork union. This friction upon whose interest counts jeopardises Lakunle’s readiness to civilise but downgrade Sidi. On the contrary, Baroka invents a scheme that downplays both Sidi and Sadiku but not evade the price. For him, the bride-price is the unquestionable influence of the masculine superiority. Given that, he must employ wit and satire in overcoming her pride and affecting her miseducation respectively.
Lastly, Soyinka heightens their character differences by creating with the irony that occurs at the climax of the story. True that the two desire Sidi for her outstanding features as a belle, the situational irony of the climax that gives the bride away suggests the one thing needful that young men lack in their embracement of foreign ideals – the right approach to denouncing barbarism. Already, the woman is trapped between the commodification by “barbaric” custom and the manipulation by refined standards. We see how the duo of Baroka and Lakunle subtly mask their ultimate motives behind promises, deceit, injunction, and the privilege of their positions as lions in their own right. By this token, Sidi passes for the prototype of the woman whom the society has left in a conundrum: the respect for traditional precepts but the inferiority it relegates her to and the acceptance of modernity but the stereotyping that comes with it (as we see in Buchi Emecheta’s Double Yoke). With the intricate weave of masculinist idiosyncrasy, Soyinka seems to have suggestively created a mounting consciousness towards the condition of the woman with both the primitive and civilised male; that her interest, irrespective of the condition of acceptance, is not absolutely safeguarded by the gender complex, superiority complex, achievement complex, utility complex, Darwinian complex, compensation complex, and all complexes that still inform the man’s choice of the ideal wife.