Crumbs from the Table of Joy


Lynn Nottage

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The Graduation Dress Symbol Analysis

The Graduation Dress Symbol Icon

The graduation dress Ernestine sews for herself symbolizes the sense of self-sufficiency and confidence that she learns to cultivate. Lily teaches her that this kind of willpower and independence is necessary for Black women to embody if they want to take a stand against the racist power structures at play in the United States. In the very beginning of their relationship, Lily suggests to Ernestine that self-presentation matters because it’s a way to challenge the assumptions white people make about Black people—which is why Lily makes a point of buying clothes from the stores where wealthy white women shop, since outdressing these women can be a “subversive” act. In keeping with this, it’s noteworthy that Ernestine makes her own graduation dress. The effort she puts into it comes to represent the kind of self-made drive that she later applies to her college career, given that going to college in the first place was something that was out of reach for many Black women in the 1950s. And yet, Lily also says in a moment of anger that it doesn’t matter what Ernestine wears to graduation—a dress in and of itself, she argues, won’t make Ernestine successful. What will make her successful, though, is the self-sufficiency and personal agency that drives Ernestine to make her own dress in the first place. In turn, the dress comes to stand for the resourcefulness and resilience that ultimately enable Ernestine to break down racial barriers and strive toward unprecedented success.

The Graduation Dress Quotes in Crumbs from the Table of Joy

The Crumbs from the Table of Joy quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Graduation Dress. 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 1 Quotes

GODFREY. You graduating? (Ernestine nods. Godfrey breaks into a smile.) Nah…. A first. You really gonna graduate? You’re gonna be a high school graduate like Percy Duncan, Roberta Miles, Sarah Dickerson, Elmore Sinclair, Chappy Phillips and Ernestine Clump. (Ernestine bashful covers her face.)

ERNESTINE. Not quite yet!

GODFREY. Why didn’t you say something?

ERNESTINE. Didn’t I? (A moment. Godfrey embarrassed takes out his note pad.)

GODFREY. … The New Day come?

Related Characters: Ernestine Crump (speaker), Godfrey Crump (speaker), Ermina Crump, Father Divine
Related Symbols: The Graduation Dress, The Notepad
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

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:
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The Graduation Dress Symbol Timeline in Crumbs from the Table of Joy

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Graduation Dress appears in Crumbs from the Table of Joy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 4
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
...into the apartment and stumbles into a mannequin, upon which Ernestine has started sewing her graduation dress . Lily is drunk and has been out all night, but she manages to catch... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Grief, Loss, and Moving On Theme Icon
Back at the apartment, Gerte chops cabbage as Ernestine works on her graduation dress . Meanwhile, Ermina interrogates Gerte, asking her if she’s anti-Semitic like the Nazis. The question... (full context)
Grief, Loss, and Moving On Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
...the room, so Ernestine asks Lily if she thinks her mother would have liked the graduation dress she’s making. The dress is nearly perfect, though she had some trouble sewing the collar—but... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 4
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
...leaves, she rips some lace off her own clothes and starts sewing it to Ernestine’s graduation dress . (full context)
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Theme Icon
Ernestine is wearing her graduation dress and holding her diploma. She has just graduated. Back at the apartment, Godfrey, Gerte, and... (full context)