The Lion and The Jewel-Wole Soyinka

Does anyone actually remember the plot line of this play?  I certainly don’t, but I found an old exam question with my answer.  All of that will be below. Enjoy.

Question:  In the play “The Lion and The Jewel” by Wole Soyinka, humour is one of the most frequently used devices.

a) Describe two humorous incidents in the play

b) Explain how humour helps to emphasize a major theme of the play.

c) Identify the most humorous character in your opinion and explain why you have this view.


In Wole Soyinka’s Play “The Lion and The Jewel”, humour is one of the most frequently used devices.  There are many humorous incidents in this play, however this essay will only discuss two.  Humour was used in the play to enhance our understanding of the characters and also to convey several themes.

One humorous incident which occurred in the play was Lakunle’s saying to Sidi; “That is what the stewpot said to the fire, are you not ashamed, licking my bottom at your age? But she was tickled all the same!”  Lakunle quotes this proverb as a joke to Sidi, after attempting to carry her bucket of water, but spilling it on himself.  Upon seeing this, Sidi says “there, wet for your pains. Have you no shame?  which elicited the proverbial response from Lakunle.  This incident is humorous as it exposes the bumbling and clumsy nature of Lakunle, who ought to be respected as he is the village school teacher.  The use of humour in this incident helps us to better understand Lakunle’s personality and his desperate attempt to woo Sidi.

Another instance of humour in the play occurs when Sidi and the other girls force Lakunle to play the part of the stranger in “The Dance of The Lost Traveller.”  Their reasoning for this is that Lakunle “…thinks like him, looks like him, dresses like him, so you are him” (him referring to the stranger).  Additionally, he cannot “hold his liquor”, much like the stranger.  This incident is humorous because the stranger is European and Lakunle tries very hard to be European.  It is also ironic because although Lakunle wishes to be European, he is reluctant to play the part of the European stranger in the pantomime.

One major theme explored through the use of humour is Tradition vs Modernity.  This theme is introduced by Lakule, and his inconsistency in what he wants to be.  It is further explored through his reluctance to portray the European stranger in “The Dance of The Lost Traveller.”  Despite his desperate and often ridiculous attempts at being European, he is unwilling to portray an actual European and makes up excuses as to why he cannot participate.  This incident displays his inconsistency because he is giving the readers a different his inconsistency because he is giving a different impression of himself that who he really is or wants to be inside.  However Lakunle’s reluctance to play the stranger can also be attributed to his superficial understanding of European customs, as he simply blindly imitates them.  This is a common feature in African society.  This is enhanced by the fact that he is described as a caricature of the African who blindly follows European ideals/ customs without fully understanding them.  Thus he is uneasy at the though of portraying an actual European as he does not fully understand European ways.

In my opinion, the character of Lakunle creates the most humour in the play.  I say this because his presence alone is a direct contradiction to the rest of the village.  Lakunle is dressed inappropriately fot the climate in a western style suit, ill-fitting at that, while the other villagers wear more traditionally styled clothing such as wrappers.  Additionally, he speaks differently from everyone else, and seems to adopt a complex European style of diction while everyone else speaks in simpler language, with frequent use of African proverbs.  He is also pretentious and condescending to the villagers who he sees as backward and beneath him, since they are averse to progress.  He shuns their traditional African beliefs as barbaric and outdated, specifically the paying of a bride price to obtain a wife.  However, this blind worship of European ways has made him a laughingstock among the villagers and the audience also.  I would say Lakunle is humorous to the audience because at times we can see his facade of European-ness slip to reveal his Afro-centric personality.  This often happens without his knowledge.  It is also humorous when he contradicts himself, as seen when he declares that he loves Sidi, but is soon after gives chase to another girl.  Overall, Lakunle is quite an entertaining character because of his stark contrast with the rest of Ilujunle.

In conclusion, humour is a very important theme in the play.  Without it the play would not be such a successful comedy.  Humour is presented in many incidents, by many characters, but the most humorous character in my opinion is Lakunle.




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