The Lion and the Jewel

Summary of the Lion and the Jewel by Wole Soyinka

Summary of the Lion and the Jewel by Wole Soyinka

The Lion and the Jewel was written by Wole Soyinka, a Nigerian novelist, essayist, playwright, and activist.

The Lion and the Jewel is a play set in a Yoruba village, Ilunjinle, in Nigeria. It has three mains acts— BarokaLakunle, and Sidi.

The play tells a story of an adorable girl, Sidi, with no formal education, but her beauty gets her admiration from Lakunle, a schoolmaster who covets to eradicate traditionalism in his village, Baroka ( the village Bale), and strangers.

Sidi reviles Lakunle for his frequent use of fancy words and desire to erase Ilunjinle’s ancient tradition. She’s the “jewel” in the play’s title.

Sidi loathes Baroka for being old and plans to jest him after learning from Sadiatu about his impotence.

Baroka is the Bale of Ilunjinle, known as the “Lion”, because of his physical strength and “Fox” for his tricks and wisdom.

Baroka is polygamous, wealthy, and conservative. He detests modernization, so he uses his position to inhibit it from getting to his village. The 62-year-old Baroka marries a new wife every five months; the last wife is Ailatu. Sidi’s photo that appears on the front page of a Lagos-based magazine reminds him of not marrying a new wife in the past five months. A comment about him hoping to take the beautiful Sidi as a new wife.

Another major character in the play is Lakunle, the 23-year-old schoolmaster who simulates a Western accent and lifestyle. He’s mocked in the village because he dislikes tradition and his old-school style of dressing, which he thinks is the best for all. Lakunle covets to win Sidi’s love and make her his wife but refuses to pay her bride price. He sees the bride price as a primitive tradition worthy of replacing.

The story has three plots that took place in a day: Morning, Afternoon, and Evening.

Morning

The Sunday morning brings Sidi. She has walked past Lakunle’s school to go fetch water, and while coming back with a pail of water on her head, Lakunle accidentally sees her and stops his lesson to approach her. He criticizes her for wearing a traditional dress and carrying a pail on her head. She persuades her to dump her traditional lifestyle and embrace modernization like those women in Lagos. Sidi, in anger, dismisses his plea and agrees to marry him if he can ditch his silly modern life and follow the traditional way. Lakunle has refused to pay her bride and calls the tradition that requires a man to pay a bride price primitive.

Lakunle and Sidi argued until when they were interrupted by the coming of the group of village kids, who announced to them the arrival of a stranger. The stranger is the Lagos-based photographer who has taken photos of Sidi with a promise to make her famous. The photographer has brought beautiful photos of Sidi and a magazine featuring her photo on its front page. Several of her photos appear in the magazine, apart from the one used as the magazine’s cover, while a photo of Baroka, the village’s Bale, appears in the magazine, too.

Sidi is thrilled by this and feels too beautiful to marry a village teacher like Lakunle and an old man like Baroka. The feat she has achieved makes her feel superior to anyone else in the village, making Lakunle resent her sudden change of status caused by her appearance in the magazine.

The village children, being led by Sidi, organize a dance and music show for the stranger as they have done on his previous arrival. The first scene folds when the villagers want to find the stranger.

Baroka then grabs the magazine and glimpses the adorable photos of Sidi, which ends by reminding him he hasn’t been married for the past five months.

Afternoon

The second scene, noon, introduces another character, Sadiatu. She’s the first wife and favorite of Baroka. The scene unfolds with Sidi gluing her eyes to her photos in the magazine and flattering her adorable looks.

Sadiatu, who’s responsible for wooing a new wife for Baroka, approaches Sidi with the news that Baroka wants her as a wife. Sidi rebukes Sadiatu and boasts of her new social status as the “jewel ” of Ilunjinle. She dismisses Baroka’s marriage proposal and claims he’s interested in her because of her social status. Moreover, she resents Baroka‘s age. She sees Baroka as an old man, so doesn’t want to establish any affectionate connection with him.

Sadiatu is shocked by Sidi’s boldness and pride. She invites Sidi to join Baroka in a feast organized to honor her achievement, but Sidi turns it down in suspense that Baroka will take advantage of her sexually. Sadiatu, having perceived Sidi’s fear of Baroka, reveals a secret about Baroka’s state of health. She tells Sidi that Baroka is impotent. Baroka lied to Sadiatu about him being impotent, knowing quite well that Sadiatu doesn’t keep a secret.

Lakunle appears and warns Sidi of Baroka’s tricks. He tells them how Baroka inhibited a government’s plan to construct a railroad through Ilunjinle, depriving the village of the opportunity to get modernized to maintain his conservative lifestyle.

Evening

The last scene took place in the evening. Sadiatu has gone back to report to Baroka about Sidi’s downplaying of his marriage proposal. In Baroka’s bedroom is Ailatu, the last wife, pulling hair from Baroka’s armpit. She plucks it harshly after he reveals to her his plan to marry another woman, making him send her away in anger. Sadiatu comes in and tells him how Sidi reacts after proposing on his behalf.

Baroka breaks down and resents the decline of his masculinity. He resorts to self-flattering to comfort himself before requesting Sadiatu to calm him down with a gentle touch. While she does massage him gently, he picks up the magazine again and stares at Sidi’s pictures once more. After the last glimpse of the magazine, he tells Sadiatu that Sidi has made the best choice for herself and that he’s impotent. He begs Sadiatu not to reveal his weakness to anyone, and she agrees. Then, he falls asleep.

The Lion and the Jewel

Subsequently, Sadiatu draws the image of her husband in her palms and prepares to perform a ritual. When Sidi senses his strange attitude in the evening, she decides to approach Sadiatu.

Sadiatu tells Sidi about her husband’s weakness, which she believes is a victory by women against men, so it should be celebrated with rituals.

Sidi learning Baroka’s impotence accepts his invitation and plans to go and play a game of wit with him. She vows to mock Baroka’s impotence without getting Sadiatu involved, but Lakunle and Sadiatu disagree with her.

However, Sidi insists she must go and runs to Baroka’s house. She walks straight into Baroka’s bedroom, where he arm-wrestles with a man hired to make him stronger. Sidi exchanges word with Baroka while he continues to wrestle. When she comments on the decline of his masculinity, Baroka summons his strength to throw the man he’s arm-wrestling with down.

He brings a stamp machine as he throws flattery words at her and promises to put her image on the stamp. Sidi is carried away by this promise. Baroka sends the man he’s wrestling away and comes closer to Sidi.

Elsewhere, Lakunle and Sadiatu are worrying about the safety of Sidi who has over-stayed in Baroka’s house. Lakunle is angry and wishes to go rescue her, but Sadiatu gets him discouraged.

Sooner, Sidi comes out, throwing herself down, and laments about how Sadiatu has lied about Baroka’s impotence. Baroka has raped her due to her disrespectful attitude in his house and lied to Sadiatu about his impotence because he knows she can’t keep a secret. He knows Sidi will certainly honor his invitation if she learns he’s impotent, and consequently lies to Sadiatu that he’s impotent.

Lakunle is enraged, learning Baroka has raped Sidi. However, he still insisted on marrying her but won’t pay her bride price since her virginity was gone.

Sadiatu doubts Sidi’s experience. Moreover, Sidi asks Lakunle whether he’s serious about marrying her, and he affirms for the second time.

She runs away to prepare for the marriage. When the preparation gets serious, Lakunle is spotted sweating and requests more time for the marriage.

Sidi laughs at him in turn and tells him that she’s planning to marry Baroka, not him. Sadiatu invokes the god of fertility to bless her marriage before the start of the festive.

As the drums heat the festive, Lakunle becomes high and chases a woman who shakes her butt for him.

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What does Lion of the Jewel mean?

The “Lion ” in the novel represents the masculinity, power, and wealth of Baroka. He is referenced as the “Lion” in the play, whereas the “Jewel ” means beauty. Sidi is the jewel of Ilunjinle. Her beauty illuminates the village.

Baroka in the play stands for power, wealth, wisdom, conservativeness, and masculinity. Baroka is dubbed the “lion” for his youthful energy and the “fox ” by Lakunle for his cunning tricks. He employs tricks to achieve the end.

Lakunle represents modernization, progressiveness, and Christianity. Lakunle is bent on replacing primitive tradition in Ilunjinle with the Western lifestyle. That makes him refuse to pay Sidi’s bride as he sees the practice as primitive.

Sidi stands for beauty. She’s the “village belle.” Her beauty is stunning, making her an object to vie for between Baroka and Lakunle. Baroka and Lakunle have conflicting characters. Baroka is against modernization, which he thinks would eradicate his people’s traditional ways of life. He’s polygamous and rich, whereas Lakunle is a progressive-minded person who wishes to modernize his primitive village. And denounces Baroka for being backward and blocks every attempt to modernize Ilunjinle.

Themes in the Lion and the Jewel

  • Deceit
  • Masculine superiority
  • Modernity and Tradition 
  • Fear and Cowardice
  • Love and marriage

Theme of Deceit

Baroka is dubbed “fox” by Lakunle for his cunning tricks. He warns Sidi to be cautious of Baroka. Baroka lied to Sadiatu about his virility knowing she couldn’t keep a secret. She went to tell everyone that her husband was impotent, a reason Sidi fell for his trap. Sidi wouldn’t have honored his invitation had she not learned Baroka was impotent.

Masculine superiority

Lakunle asserted that Sidi’s inability to understand his explanation was because of her ‘small’ brain. He claimed women’s brain is smaller than that of men.

Tradition versus modernization

The play presents two conflicting characters. Lakunle was progressive-minded and hoped to replace his people’s primitive lifestyle with a modern lifestyle, while Baroka represents tradition. He did all he could to ensure his village tradition wasn’t erased.

What happened at the end of The Lion and the Jewel?

The story ended after Sidi honored Baroka’s invitation after learning he was impotent. She went to meet him in his bedroom to mock his impotence and engage him in a wit game. She ends up being raped by Baroka in retaliation for her disrespectful attitude in his house. She came out sobbing. 

When Lakunle learned her virginity had been taken by Baroka he proposed to her on the account that she does not request him to pay a bride price. Sidi agreed, but Lakunle lamented the impromptu marriage. Sidi ended up marrying Baroka.

What’s the genre of The Lion and the Jewel?

 The genre of comedy is light comedy. The writer infused the element of humor to tell an interesting story.

 

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