It would be easy to approach the play as an allegory of traditional Nigeria's encounter with modern Western culture. Speaking of the three main characters of the play, Andrew Walser comments: "One could reduce Soyinka's The Lion and the Jewel to an allegory in which Baroka represents African tradition, Lakunle stands for the temptation to mimic the West, and Sidi represents beauty and art" (Walser, 284). But Walser concludes that this is wrong-headed because the characters are developed beyond being such ciphers. Indeed, if one followed the implications of such an allegorical reading of the play, then Soyinka would be arguing against his own life. With a series of academic posts in Britain and the United States, and his defence of Western ideals of freedom and Justice in the face of Nigeria's dictators, Soyinka is very Westernized indeed. Lakunle fails in his imitation of the West, presenting an appearance in the stage directions that begin the play (Soyinka 1), that a Westerner would find comic, and humiliating himself as an imperfect mimic of the West even in the eyes of a simple village girl such as Sidi: …the whole world knows of the madman Of Ilujinle, who calls himself a teacher! Is it SIDI who makes the men choke In their cups, or you, with your big loud words And no meaning?... (Soyinka 3).Similarly, it is the village Bale of chief Baroka who triumphs in the seduction of Sidi. This would suggest, if one followed the allegory, that art ought to become the property of Nigerian tradition. But, on the one hand it is hardly allowable that art could be won by tradition through, "the fear of impotence, and woman's sexual malice" (Laurence 24), while on the other it is obvious that Soyinka's own art belongs to the West. His form is completely Western: the text is even written in iambic pentameter (though Soyinka has a rather dead ear for it). It is true that the play has many Yorbuan elements with its mimes and dances, but it is almost as though these are exotic elements brought in to provide 'local color' to a Western text.
The possibility of an allegorical reading of the play cannot be dismissed. It is inevitably called into being by the text and cannot be easily sent away from the reader's or the viewer's mind. But the contrast between the message of any allegorical interpretation of the play and the audience's expectation, or indeed with Soyinka's own art and artistic ideals, denies the validity of the obvious allegory. Rather, the allegorical expectations of the audience are purposefully subverted. This subversion is ultimately the source of the play's comedy. In so Western a work, the representation of the West is a clownish buffoon, whose attempt to oust Baroka and the tradition he represents from his position of dominance fails utterly. Baroka turns out to be far more sophisticated and subtle than his mock-Western opponent, as well as more successful. Perhaps Soyinka is exploring a different path his life might have taken. This tension within the play overturns the expectation of the play's audience. The play was written in English and so could have an audience only of Westerners or of heavily Westernized Nigerians who most likely would expect the West to triumph in the name of 'Modernization' or some such ideological goal. Perhaps they are instead made to see their pretensions in a new light by a satire that instead sees the triumph of