Crumbs from the Table of Joy


Lynn Nottage

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Crumbs from the Table of Joy Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Lynn Nottage's Crumbs from the Table of Joy. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Lynn Nottage

Lynn Nottage was born in 1964 in Brooklyn to schoolteacher and principal Ruby Nottage and child psychologist Wallace Nottage. She attended Fiorella H. LaGuardia High School (which specializes in visual and performing arts), during which time she wrote The Darker Side of Verona, her first full-length play. Nottage went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from Brown University, followed by an MFA from the Yale School of Drama in 1989. After this, Nottage worked at Amnesty International’s press office and went on to write several plays—most notably Intimate Apparel; Ruined; By the Way, Meet Vera Stark; and Sweat. She earned her DFA from Brown in 2011 and has received honorary degrees from Julliard and Albright College. Nottage is married to Tony Gerber, with whom she has two children; she and Gerber are cofounders of Market Road Films production company. Nottage won Pulitzers for both Ruined and Sweat, making her the first and only woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice. She’s also the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship, a Merit and Literature Award from The Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Guggenheim Grant, among several other awards and honors. Nottage is currently a professor of playwriting at Columbia University.
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Historical Context of Crumbs from the Table of Joy

Crumbs from the Table of Joy is set in a period now known as the Second Red Scare, which was characterized by a pervasive fear in the United States of communism and certain progressive liberal ideals. The main concern was that the United States had been infiltrated by covert communists who intended to upend American society with socialist practices and ideas. The hysteria that this thinking sparked is known as McCarthyism and is named after Joseph McCarthy, a senator from Wisconsin who was particularly vocal about the supposed threat of communism. McCarthy accused many liberal people of nefarious dealings, but his popularity began to decrease in the 1950s after it became clear that many of his frenzied accusations were unfounded. Many activists striving for equality and racial justice were accused of being communists, and though this was certainly true in some cases, the accusations were mainly used as a quick and easy way to discredit certain activists in the eyes of the general public, since many Americans subscribed to the notion that members of the Communist Party were inherently dangerous. Godfrey Crumb shares this viewpoint in Crumbs from the Table of Joy, but this might seem somewhat ironic, since his beloved Peace Mission Movement was actually aligned with the Communist Party in the 1930s. However, Father Divine (who claimed to be God and led the Peace Mission Movement, a religious movement with all the trappings of a cult) renounced the Communist Party during the Second Red Scare. In doing so, he ended up contradicting many values that he had previously put at the center of the Peace Mission Movement.

Other Books Related to Crumbs from the Table of Joy

Because Crumbs from the Table of Joy features a Black family that migrates from Florida to New York City, it’s worth considering it alongside one of Lynn Nottage’s other well-known plays, Intimate Apparel, which is about a young Black woman who makes her way to New York City in search of success. To that end, the famous playwright August Wilson also wrote extensively about Black characters who traveled north looking for better lives in the 20th century. In particular, Wilson’s plays Gem of the Ocean and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone examine the experience of leaving the South to escape racism and look for new opportunities. In the same vein, Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man features a Black man who leaves the South for New York City, where he—much like the members of the Crumb family—encounters the Communist Party. Similarly, Richard Wright’s memoir, Black Boy, details the author’s move to a northern city and his increasing involvement in the Communist Party.
Key Facts about Crumbs from the Table of Joy
  • Full Title: Crumbs from the Table of Joy
  • When Published: 1995
  • Literary Period: Contemporary 
  • Genre: Drama 
  • Setting: 1950s Brooklyn
  • Climax: Godfrey rushes into his apartment with blood on his face after a gang of racists attacked him for being in an interracial marriage with Gerte.
  • Antagonist: Racism and narrow-mindedness

Extra Credit for Crumbs from the Table of Joy

In Decline. As of 2015, there were only 19 known members of the Peace Mission Movement (formerly led by Father Divine), which forbids its members from engaging in sexual intercourse.

Terminator. The premiere of Crumbs from the Table of Joy was directed by Joe Morton, an actor who has appeared in many famous films, including Terminator 2: Judgment Day.