Crumbs from the Table of Joy

by

Lynn Nottage

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Lily is Ernestine and Ermina’s aunt and Godfrey’s late wife’s sister. An independent, progressive Black woman involved with the Communist Party, she arrives unannounced at the Crumbs’ apartment in Brooklyn not long after they’ve arrived in the city. Godfrey is surprised to see her, and though he reluctantly welcomes her and lets her stay, he’s uptight and nervous around her, largely because he feels tempted by her presence. The implication is that they have some sort of romantic history, as Lily often makes subtle remarks about the times they used to spend together in bars in the South. What’s more, Godfrey no longer approves of drinking and makes a point of not keeping alcohol in the house, but Lily frequently stays out late and comes home drunk. She also talks to Ernestine about the idea of equality, urging her to think critically about the race and gender dynamics that directly impact her life—ideas Godfrey doesn’t want Lily talking about, fearing that his family will be associated with communism. Lily, for her part, often talks about how influential she is in certain intellectual circles, but it’s never quite clear whether or not this is truly the case. For the most part, she spends her time partying, especially after Godfrey brings home his new white wife, Gerte—a move that deeply vexes Lily, who seems to have thought she and Godfrey might eventually get together. In the end, Godfrey asks Lily to leave the apartment, and they don’t hear from her again. Years later, Ermina is the one to officially identify Lily’s corpse, which is “poked full of holes,” suggesting that she succumbed to an intravenous drug addiction. And yet, her legacy lives on through Ernestine, whose work as an activist is the result of her aunt’s initial teachings.

Lily Quotes in Crumbs from the Table of Joy

The Crumbs from the Table of Joy quotes below are all either spoken by Lily or refer to Lily. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
).
Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

Ya like my suit? (Ernestine nods.) I bought it on Fifth Avenue, sure did, to spite those white gals. You know how they hate to see a Negro woman look better than they do. It’s my own little subversive mission to out dress them whenever possible. Envy is my secret weapon, babies. If ya learn anything from your Auntie let it be that.

Related Characters: Lily (speaker), Ernestine Crump
Page Number: 17-18
Explanation and Analysis:

Go on say it, tongue won’t fall out. The communist party, amongst other things. (Ermina giggles.) Oh you find that funny? (Earnestly.) I ain’t laughing. I suppose ya happy with what you got, a bit of nothing. Sure I was happy at your age “a little pickaninny” selling hot cakes to the fishermen. Taking pennies from poor people ain’t a job it’s a chore. This may be New York, but this still the basement. Don’t none of those crackers want to share any bit of power with us. That’s what it’s about. Red scare, should be called black scare.

Related Characters: Lily (speaker), Ermina Crump, Godfrey Crump, Ernestine Crump
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 1, Scene 3 Quotes

ERMINA. Why’d you lose your job?

LILY. Well babies, a Negro woman with my gumption don’t keep work so easily. It’s one of the hazards of being an independent thinker.

Related Characters: Ermina Crump (speaker), Lily (speaker), Ernestine Crump
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Nobody ask me…. Besides I never plan to marry. How you like that? I’m exerting my own will, and since the only thing ever willed for me was marriage, I choose not to do it. And why take just one man, when you can have a lifetime full of so many. Listen up, that may be the best advice I give you babies. And you needn’t share that little pearl of wisdom with your daddy.

Related Characters: Lily (speaker), Ernestine Crump, Ermina Crump, Godfrey Crump
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

[…] I wondered had her revolution already begun? So I went down to the Public library round my way, “Revolution, American, Revolutionary War, Revolution, French.” But no Negro Revolution. I did find twenty entries on communism in the card catalogue, but no books on the shelves. The teacher said, “select a topic that’s close to you.” My essay was entitled “The Colored Worker in the United States,” the mistake was using the word “worker” too liberally. The principal called in Daddy Goodness and told him to stop mingling with the Jews at his job and everything would be all right. Daddy didn’t bother to tell him that his co-workers were all colored. And the Jews on our block won’t speak to us.

Related Characters: Ernestine Crump (speaker), Lily, Godfrey Crump
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Well hell Godfrey I ain’t said nothing about nothing. I can’t help it if that child got eyes and ears, and a mind that ain’t limited to a few pages in the bible.

Related Characters: Lily (speaker), Godfrey Crump, Ernestine Crump
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 1, Scene 4 Quotes

I left Florida for a reason, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, couldn’t do nothing but go to work, make my dime and drink it down on Friday night. Then I found something that gave me inspiration, gave me strength to make a change. May not be like your change, revolution! Oh but it do feel that big to me. It soothed my pain and that’s all I want right now. It took all the strength I had to take these gals on a train out their wooden doors and place ’em here in brick and concrete.

Related Characters: Godfrey Crump (speaker), Lily, Ernestine Crump, Ermina Crump, Father Divine
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

And I think I deserve some respect and you’re trying me, you’re trying me. (Sniffs the air. Lily smiles seductively.) I smell the liquor and the sweat. I see the juke box swirling and the cats laughing. (He begins to laugh, lost in the memory.) I can hear the big sister on stage hollering out her song. Go on sing! (He stomps his feet.) But I ain’t going there. Taste my lips puffing on a Cuba, talking out my ass. (He pulls Lily close to him and does a few quick dance steps, then releases her.) Feel my hands ’round a woman’s hips, swaying to the beat. But I ain’t there! (He storms out the door.)

Related Characters: Godfrey Crump (speaker), Lily, Ernestine Crump, Ermina Crump
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

LILY. [..] What? I don’t generally do this, but I’ve been nervous as of late.

GERTE. (Sarcastically.) Just how is your … “revolution?” Working hard? You’re spending a lot of time up at the headquarters in Harlem. Where is it exactly?

LILY. Lenox Avenue.

GERTE. That’s right, Lenox Avenue. I haven’t heard you mention it in quite some time. (Lily stands.)

ERNESTINE. Yeah, you ain’t said much.

LILY. ’Cause it’s liable to end up in one of your essays. You got too much imagination to keep a simple secret.

Related Characters: Lily (speaker), Gerte (speaker), Ernestine Crump (speaker)
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

GERTE. Can’t you forget our differences behind this closed door. When I see you I see no color. I see Lily. (She lights a cigarette.)

LILY. Well when I see ya I see a white woman, and when I look in the mirror I see a Negro woman. All that in the confines in this here room. How about that? What do you see Ernie? You see any differences between us?

ERNESTINE. Yeah.

LILY. There you go.

GERTE. May I say to you both, I have seen what happens when we permit our differences—

LILY. (Enraged.) Don’t lecture me about race. You are the last person on earth I’d look to for guidance.

Related Characters: Gerte (speaker), Lily (speaker), Ernestine Crump (speaker)
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

LILY. […] You expecting too much from that blanched mess of fabric. What’s it gonna get you?

ERNESTINE. I’m gonna graduate in it. I’ll be grown.

LILY. Grown. You think ’cause you got a diploma you grown. You’ll be ready to step out that door in your white dress and get a job or a husband.

Related Characters: Lily (speaker), Ernestine Crump (speaker), Gerte
Related Symbols: The Graduation Dress
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 3 Quotes

GERTE. So where are the warriors in your revolution now? Why don’t they help us? How are we to lead our lives if we can’t go out for a … a picture show on a Saturday night.

LILY. Welcome to our world, […]. You ain’t supposed to period! Stop! Thought you knew about all these things being from Germany and all.

Related Characters: Gerte (speaker), Lily (speaker), Godfrey Crump
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

You see Ernestine that’s your America. Negro sitting on his couch with blood dripping down his face. White woman unscathed and the enemy not more than five years back. You can’t bring order to this world. You can’t put up curtains and pot plants and have things change. You really thought you could marry a white woman and enter the kingdom of heaven, didn’t ya?

Related Characters: Lily (speaker), Ernestine Crump, Godfrey Crump, Gerte, Father Divine
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

GODFREY. I’ll make a note to speak to her later.

GERTE. STOP! You’ve assembled lists that run miles and miles. There’s an entire closet crowded with paper and scribbles of things you need to know, things you want to do, questions that must be answered. It would make three lifetimes to get through all of it.

[…]

GERTE. If you’d pay attention to the world around you, you wouldn’t have so many questions to ask.

Related Characters: Gerte (speaker), Godfrey Crump, Lily, Father Divine
Related Symbols: The Notepad
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:
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Lily Character Timeline in Crumbs from the Table of Joy

The timeline below shows where the character Lily appears in Crumbs from the Table of Joy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 2
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
...no idea who she is. Ernestine explains to the audience that this is their aunt, Lily, who’s the first Black woman she and her sister have ever seen dressed like a... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Godfrey enters the room and is shocked to see Lily, but she takes his surprise in stride. Before long, Godfrey warms up to her and... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Grief, Loss, and Moving On Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
To break the awkward silence that has filled the apartment, Godfrey tells Lily that they tried to find her when they moved to Brooklyn. They knew she lived... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
Godfrey notices that Ernestine is staring at Lily, so he tells her to stop. But Lily doesn’t mind. She asks if her niece... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
Lily makes a comment about how hungry she is, and though she half-heartedly tells Godfrey and... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
Lily asks Godfrey to take her bags in from the hall. He’s surprised she even brought... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
Lily tries to get Godfrey to rehash memories of old times they spent together in various... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Grief, Loss, and Moving On Theme Icon
Godfrey doesn’t like Lily talking about communism in front of the girls, but Lily tells him to relax. She... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
Godfrey begrudgingly goes into the hall to get Lily’s bags while Lily talks to Ernestine and Ermina. When he returns, he asks if she’s... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 3
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
...she, her sister, and her father now share two single beds pushed together so that Lily can have her own place to sleep. She, Ermina, and Lily are now sitting in... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
Ermina tells Lily that Ernestine wants to be a movie star, so Lily teases her about trying to... (full context)
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
Lily often talks about a “revolution,” causing Ernestine to wonder when, exactly, this cultural push for... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
...Ernestine’s principal, simply remaining silent until he gets home, at which point he angrily tells Lily that she has put him in a very difficult position. Everyone thinks he’s a communist... (full context)
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
...to go back to school and apologize for writing about communist ideas in her essay. Lily thinks this is absurd, claiming that Godfrey is punishing his daughter for thinking for herself.... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 4
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
...everything is ready for Father Divine’s upcoming visit. Ermina is in the living room when Lily bursts into the apartment and stumbles into a mannequin, upon which Ernestine has started sewing... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
Ernestine asks about the dance Lily did with the Cuban man, and she explains that it was the mambo. She then... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Grief, Loss, and Moving On Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
Godfrey reprimands Lily for drinking, but she laughs him off and starts talking about the drinking they used... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
Godfrey and Lily start arguing about the past, with Godfrey trying to guilt Lily for not being by... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
As their argument comes to a head, Lily asks if Godfrey wants her to apologize. If he does, she says, then that’s what... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 6
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Grief, Loss, and Moving On Theme Icon
...age, too, but Ernestine simply yells that she doesn’t want Gerte in the apartment. Meanwhile, Lily stands in the doorway and asks Godfrey what’s going on. (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
Ernestine and Lily are in the living room preparing to leave for the Holy Communion Banquet at the... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
...doesn’t like music in the apartment on Sundays, so she shuts it off. Just then, Lily stumbles in after a long night of drinking. Gerte gives her some water for her... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
...off, noting that Godfrey doesn’t like it when they play such music in the apartment. Lily, for her part, remarks that Godfrey doesn’t like anything, especially things he “can’t control.” But... (full context)
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
Gerte asks Lily about how she spends her days. She hasn’t heard Lily talk about the “revolution” much.... (full context)
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Gerte, for her part, insists that she doesn’t see color when she looks at Lily, but both Lily and Ernestine challenge this—when they look at Gerte, they certainly see a... (full context)
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
Gerte asks Ernestine to get her a bowl, but Lily tries to stop her niece, reminding her that she’s not Gerte’s servant. Plus, Gerte didn’t... (full context)
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
When Ernestine comes back (after having gotten Gerte a bowl), Lily turns the radio back on and explains to her niece that the jazz coming out... (full context)
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Grief, Loss, and Moving On Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
...it. Their mother, Ermina had said, would have wanted Ernestine to have it. Now, though, Lily continues to insult the lace, insisting that it’ll make Ernestine look “girlish,” which is exactly... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 3
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
...hadn’t even responded to the white men. She also wants to call the police, but Lily tries to explain that the police wouldn’t do anything. In response, Gerte angrily asks where... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
...Gerte and that she’s to blame. Godfrey tells her not to say such things, but Lily defends her niece, suggesting that Father Divine inspired Godfrey to marry a white woman without... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Grief, Loss, and Moving On Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
Godfrey responds by sarcastically apologizing that he can’t meet Lily’s high standards, suggesting that maybe she should find a place where she’ll be with like-minded... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
Godfrey criticizes Lily for filling his daughters’ heads with bad ideas. In response, Lily says she’s tired of... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Grief, Loss, and Moving On Theme Icon
After Lily leaves, Gerte says that although she has nothing against Lily, she thinks it’s unfair that... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 4
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Grief, Loss, and Moving On Theme Icon
...boss calls him the n-word in front of the other workers. He also mentions that Lily has been living with his family and he doesn’t know how much longer he’ll “be... (full context)
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Lily comes back with a bottle of whiskey and tells Ernestine that she’s leaving. She says... (full context)
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Ernestine asks Lily to pour her a glass of whiskey, and though Lily notes that Godfrey wouldn’t approve,... (full context)
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If Ernestine wants to further the revolution, Lily says, she should simply find herself a good profession. By doing this, she’ll make sure... (full context)
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Gerte enters the living room, so Lily offers her a drink. For a moment, Ernestine imagines Gerte accepting the drink and then... (full context)
Epilogue
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
...bakery. When she tells him that she’s going to Harlem, he thinks she’s just chasing Lily. In reality, though, Ernestine wants to go for herself. She turns to the audience and... (full context)
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Grief, Loss, and Moving On Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
...to the South to visit their grandmother, and she’ll also be the one to identify Lily’s dead body, which will be “poked full of holes.” Ernestine will read important works of... (full context)