A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE PLAY “THE LION AND THE JEWEL” BY WOLE SOYINKA

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INTRODUCTION

This article introduces you to another comedy. The play is written by a Nigerian, Prof. Wale Soyinka and it has a Nigerian background.

Plot

The play has a chronological causal plot. The action starts in the morning and ends at night. In the play, the playwright draws a parallel between the modern ways of life and traditional values and institutions as well as depict the impact and ineffectual assault of modern values on traditional values.

The play shows how the village teacher, Lakunle who represents the modern era, loses out against Baroka, the Bale of Ilujinle, in their separate bid to win the love of Sidi, the village belle. The  morning scene takes place at the outskirts of the market square, outside the school building. Sidi, dressed in her traditional apparel, exposing her shoulder and carrying a pail of water on her head, appears first. Lakunle dressed in an old English suit and white tennis shoes comes along and ridicules Sidi by saying that only spiders carry loads the way she does. He rebukes Sidi for exposing her body for people.

According to Lakunle, the custom will be replaced by modern machines to take over most of the work women do. Sidi sees his views on their tradition and custom as madness. Lakunle proposes to marry Sidi but insists that the customary bride price will not be paid. On the contrary, Sidi insists that she will only marry him if he is ready to settle the full bride price so that she will not make herself “A cheap bowl for the village spit”(7). Lakunle considers this custom as being not only “barbaric” and “out-dated” but “savage” and “ignoble’. Sidi sees Lakunle’s modern project as a dream.

The scene in which a photographer (the man from the outside world) visited Ilujinle in the past to snap photographs of Sidi is recreated here. The pictures snapped feature extensively in a magazine which is a sort of toast to the whole world. Baroka also features in the magazine but little attention is given to him as he is seen therein near the village latrine. Bale does not like the unimportant attention given to him. Sidi is full of herself because of her prominent appearance in the magazine. She becomes the talk of the town and the village beauty who has brought fame to the village.

Sidi is seen engrossed in the admiration of her pictures in the magazine. Sadiku, the old woman, sends effusive greetings to Sidi and intimates her of the Bale’s intention to marry her. Sidi discountenances an offer of marriage to a man as old as Baroka whose main intention is to subdue her and stall her rise to stardom. Lakunle dissuades Sidi from accepting such an offer.

But Sadiku convinces Sidi to marry Baroka just as Sidi continues to praise herself even as her ’fame has spread to Lagos/And beyond the seas.’ Sadiku tells her that being the Bale’s last wife is an honour because when the present Bale dies, she would be married to the new Bale with the privilege of ‘living in the outhouse’. Conversely, Sidi argues further that every woman who has supped with Baroka one night ‘becomes his wife or concubine the next’. And to strengthen Sidi’s position, Lakunke adds that Baorka is ‘a die hard rogue’ who ‘Foiled the public works attempt/To build the railway through Ilujinle’(24).

Sadiku unveils Baroka’s carved figure as Sidi stands by the school room window admiring her own pictures. Sadiku praises herself on her past exploits and what women can do to their men. Sidi is carried away by the melodious music and as she dances to it with Sadiku, they do not notice Lakunle who appears on the scene. Sidi volunteers to visit Baroka at his palace for the supper he promised her, to ensure that the devil is mocked and to seek forgivness on her part for refusing Baroka in the first place. Sadiku welcomes the idea while Lakunle tells Sidi not to go. Sidi visits Baroka in his bedroom to mock him on his impotence. Unfortunately she discovers that it was a trick. She has no option than to marry Baroka, since she is no longer a virgin.

Themes

  1. a) The Triumph of African Tradition Over Western Culture

Lakunle represents modernity in the play. He has acquired a bit of western education and wants to impose their culture on his people. Naturally the old ways of doing things cannot change so easily. The custodians of the custom will always find a way of thwarting the modern trend no matter how logical, beautiful and trendy it may be. Lakunle thinks that he could change the cultural values of a traditional Yoruba society. Is it possible for one to stop the people from getting involved in traditional marriage ceremonies, wrestling, invocation of ancestral spirits, elders or parental blessings of marriage, intermediaries in marriage, festivals, traditional dancing and merry-making that are part of traditional marriage ceremonies.

Baroka thwarts the efforts of the colonialists to build a road in Ilujinle. The implication is that he prevented the spread of western civilization in the stopped the town. He also destroys Sidi’s opportunity to an exposure to modern ways of life and fame by subduing her through his marriage to her.

The Negative Influence of Traditional Practices on the Female Folk

The playwright implicitly suggests that women are over laboured in the society: they carry loads and do all sorts of manual jobs. It is not also proper that an old man should trick a teenager into marriage just to boost his ego.

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