Review: The Lion and the Jewel by Wole Soyinka
Title: The Lion and the Jewel
Author: Soyinka, Wole
Length: 65 pages
Genre: Fiction, Drama
Publisher / Year: Oxford University Press / 1962
Source: Used bookstore in Johannesburg
Why I Read It: It sounded really interesting.
Date Read: 07/10/11
I was really excited to see this, one of Soyinka’s best-known plays, in a second-hand shop and had to grab it. I’ve long heard fantastic things about his plays but have never until now had the opportunity to read one. The Lion and the Jewel is a short work set in a Yoruba village that pokes fun at a number of people and happenings. Through it Soyinka does a great job of portraying the clash of cultures and of people.
Sidi is the young belle of the village whose head has swollen due to being photographed by a man from the city. Lakunle is the poor village teacher who went to the city to be educated and now wants to change the whole customs and events in the village. He has been influenced by Western thought and thinks many customs – whether really good or bad – are evil and barbaric and wants them ended. But he is also in love with Sidi and wants her to marry him – without his having to pay the bride price of course.
Baroka is the Bale of the village and as such is the most powerful man in the village, and Lakunle’s nemesis. The two are always arguing with Lakunle of course losing but feeling like he has won. Baroka decides he needs a new, young wife, and that the ‘jewel’ of the village, Sidi, should become his newest wife. The play follows his and Lakunle’s exploits of trying to win her hand.
Soyinka cleverly shows village and western customs and pokes fun at both, showing that neither are truly good or bad, and that village customs exist for a reason. He also pokes fun at the way various people behave, showing humour and wit. For me the funniest part was Lakunle trying to convince Sidi both that women were much inferior to men, and that he shouldn’t pay a bride price because he wants a true companion and equal, not a trophy or possession. Clearly the two don’t equate and he can’t have it both ways!
Although small, Soyinka does a lot in this play and I really look forward to reading more by him in the future. I recommend his plays to any and all who want a good read.