Crumbs from the Table of Joy

by

Lynn Nottage

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Crumbs from the Table of Joy: Prologue Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Seventeen-year-old Ernestine Crump sits on a park bench in Brooklyn with her 15-year-old sister, Ermina, and her father, Godfrey. Directly addressing the audience, she explains that the grief of her mother’s death laid her father flat. Godfrey cries out in sorrow as Ernestine explains how their family mourned her mother’s death. The loss especially changed how Godfrey moved through the world, making him quiet and reserved. And then one day, Godfrey simply stopped wailing with grief, packed the family up, and moved them from Florida to Brooklyn.
From the very beginning of the play, it’s clear that Crumbs from the Table of Joy will explore the difficulties of moving on from grief and loss. After Ernestine and Ermina’s mother died, their family was weighed down by their grief—especially Godfrey, who was seemingly incapable of doing anything at all. And when he finally did do something to move on from this terrible loss, he made a rather drastic move by uprooting his family and relocating to Brooklyn. It seems, then, that Godfrey’s response to hardship is somewhat desperate, as grief has led him to completely change everything about his life. 
Themes
Grief, Loss, and Moving On Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Ernestine explains to the audience that her father got a job at a bakery in Brooklyn. He left for work after dinner each night and came back in the early morning, nodding on his way in and out to a hanged photograph of a man named Father Divine. While he was gone, Ernestine and Ermina would go to school, where the other girls made fun of them for their southern upbringing and the rural way they dressed. Ermina often fought the girls, furious because of their remarks. But the two sisters found refuge in movie theaters, where they could go and watch dramatic films while sitting right next to white viewers. They could weep at the movies, and nobody would say anything.
The fact that Ernestine and Ermina seek refuge in movie theaters hints at a desire to escape their own lives, as if watching a movie helps them see beyond their own bleak circumstances. What’s more, the girls’ awareness of their proximity to white viewers in the theater highlights the cultural shift they’ve experienced by migrating from the South to the North. Whereas their home in the South was highly segregated, New York City is not. This takes some getting used to, as they’re now tasked with learning all of the social codes and practices of the North, where racism is less apparent but still very much alive.
Themes
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Grief, Loss, and Moving On Theme Icon
It’s the 1950s, and everybody around Ernestine and Ermina is talking about the threat of communism—except, that is, for their father, whose main concern is whether or not Father Divine has written back to him. Godfrey has been writing to Father Divine, the leader of the Peace Mission Movement. Godfrey turned to the teachings of Father Divine when he was in the throes of sorrow after his wife’s death. Father Divine ended up blessing Godfrey via mail, which suddenly “cured” Godfrey’s grief and made it possible for him to move on. Godfrey was so grateful that he decided to move closer to Father Divine, which is why he took the family to Brooklyn—only to discover that the Peace Mission Movement had relocated to Philadelphia.
The Peace Mission Movement was an actual religious movement that reached its height in the first half of the 20th century. Its leader was Father Divine, who claimed he was God and taught his followers to abstain from sexual intercourse. Although the Peace Mission Movement was essentially a cult, it’s worth pointing out some of Father Divine’s most central teachings were about the importance of racial equality, ultimately aligning the group with the civil rights movement and even—at one point in the 1930s—the Communist Party. This is because the Peace Mission Movement actually practiced a form of “communal socialism,” in which the community pooled its resources and shared the profits of various movement-related businesses.
Themes
Faith, Devotion, and Hope Theme Icon
Grief, Loss, and Moving On Theme Icon
Related Quotes
On a Sunday evening, Ernestine and Ermina want to listen to the radio, but Godfrey won’t let them. He reminds them that it’s Sunday and that Father Divine wouldn’t approve, so they beg to go upstairs to visit their neighbors, an elderly Jewish couple who often gives them money on the weekends to turn on various appliances—like, for instance, the television. But Godfrey doesn’t want his daughters spending so much time with white people. Ernestine finds this hypocritical, since Father Divine himself married a “spotless white virgin.” Still, Godfrey doesn’t want anything to do with white people, saying that he doesn’t want to end up like the Scottsboro Boys.
The Scottsboro Boys were a group of nine Black teenagers who were falsely accused of raping a white woman. The trials that followed this accusation were long and attracted quite a bit of attention from the general public, and the entire event drastically altered each defendant’s life. Although several of the teenagers eventually went on to lead rewarding lives outside of prison, the entire ordeal largely ruined the defendants’ lives. The fact that Godfrey references the Scottsboro Boys underscores just how frightened he is of the harsh reality of racism in the United States—so frightened, it seems, that he doesn’t want to take any chances, instead opting to avoid white people as much as possible. Even just helping Jewish neighbors by turning on electrical appliances on the Sabbath (a day when many Jewish people refrain from using modern technology) seems potentially sinister to a Black man living under the constant threat of racist aggression.
Themes
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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