The Lion and the Jewel is filled with instances of trickery, particularly surrounding language. Language is the tool by which characters fool one another, create false impressions of superiority, and convince others to support their goals. Thus, language is shown to be a source of power. However, the play ultimately suggests that language is most powerful when used without lies or misdirection, and when it is applied in service of concrete, achievable goals.
Lakunle delights in using big words and flowery language to try to impress Sidi and other villagers. While his grasp of the English language makes him feel powerful, in reality it only makes him look like a fool. For example, when Lakunle describes the custom of paying a bride price as "excommunicated" or "redundant," it becomes obvious to the play’s audience that Lakunle doesn't have a complete grasp of English, despite how much he loves and flaunts the language. He uses complicated words because he knows that they are beyond the understanding of his fellow villagers. However, though he expects such language to be impressive, Sidi tells Lakunle scornfully that his words "always sound the same/and make no meaning." This suggests that even if Sidi isn't specifically aware that Lakunle is misusing words, Lakunle's performance still exposes him for the fool he is, and both the characters and the audience laugh at him for it.
Lakunle’s attempts to woo Sidi by using language she doesn't understand are just one example of characters engaging in trickery to try to achieve their goals. Sadiku and Sidi try to humiliate Baroka by tricking him into believing Sidi has accepted his offer of marriage, Baroka himself tricks both women into believing his manhood is gone, and he tricks Sidi into marrying him. All of these tricks are carried out through the use of language; they're verbal tricks rather than physical tricks. Though the success of the tricks varies from character to character, their verbal nature is indicative of the power of language and words to control others.
The play does, however, draw a distinction between tricks that are meant to spur action (like marriage or modernization of the village), and tricks that are meant to create an emotional reaction, such as humiliation. Sadiku and Sidi's attempt to humiliate Baroka by exposing his supposed inability to perform sexually (an emotional trick) is ultimately unsuccessful and makes both women look like fools in the end. Similarly, while one of Lakunle's goals was to convince Sidi to marry him, he seems far more interested in making himself look educated and modern. These tricks with purely emotional goals only work to make the tricksters themselves look silly. Baroka, on the other hand, has concrete goals and he uses a combination of trickery and telling the truth to achieve them. Much of what Baroka tells Sidi seems to be truthful: he doesn't hate progress and, in fact, he wishes to help spur progress by developing a postal system for the village. By using the truth to his advantage and setting comparatively reasonable and concrete, achievable goals (marriage to Sidi and modernization in moderation), Baroka is able to wield actual power over others.
Language, Words, and Trickery ThemeTracker
Language, Words, and Trickery Quotes in The Lion and the Jewel
Lakunle: You could wear something.
Most modest women do. But you, no.
You must run around naked in the streets.
Does it not worry you... the bad names,
The lewd jokes, the tongue-licking noises
Which girls, uncovered like you,
Draw after them?
Sidi: ...Is it Sidi who makes the men choke
In their cups, or you, with your big loud words
And no meaning?
For that, what is a jewel to pigs?
If now I am misunderstood by you
And your race of savages, I rise above taunts
And remain unruffled.
Wasted! Wasted! Sidi, my heart
Bursts into flowers with my love.
But you, you and the dead of this village
Trample it with feet of ignorance.
A savage custom, barbaric, out-dated,
Rejected, denounced, accursed,
Excommunicated, archaic, degrading,
Humiliating, unspeakable, redundant.
Retrogressive, remarkable, unpalatable.
Ignorant girl, can you not understand?
To pay the price would be
To buy a heifer off the market stall.
They are lies, lies. You must not believe everything you hear. Sidi, would I deceive you? I swear to you...
For though you're nearly seventy,
Your mind is simple and unformed.
Have you no shame that at your age,
You neither read nor write nor think?
Did she not, perhaps... invent some tale?
For I know Sadiku loves to be
To think that once I thought,
Sidi is the eye's delight, but
She is vain, and her head
Is feather-light, and always giddy
With a trivial thought. And now
I find her deep and wise beyond her years.
The old must flow into the new, Sidi,
Not blind itself or stand foolishly
Apart. A girl like you must inherit
Miracles which age alone reveals.
Dear Sidi, we shall forget the past.
This great misfortune touches not
The treasury of my love.
But you will agree, it is only fair
That we forget the bride-price totally
Since you no longer can be called a maid.