Crumbs From the Table of Joy examines how people respond to perspectives that differ from their own. Godfrey, for instance, has a strong negative reaction whenever he comes into contact with his late wife’s sister, Lily’s, progressive, communist worldview. His intense backlash is tied to the anti-communist sentiment that was especially strong in the United States during the 1950s (when the play is set). To be branded a communist came with grave social consequences, as evidenced by the fact that Godfrey’s coworkers stop talking to him when his daughter Ernestine writes a school paper that makes her teacher think the Crumb family is communist—a good indication of just how quickly people in Godfrey’s community judge one another for having even the slightest association with communist ideas.
And yet, Lily points out that Ernestine’s essay doesn’t mean she’s a communist—it just means she’s thinking critically about the world. Her essay isn’t even specifically about communism; it’s about the labor movement in the United States. What Ernestine is most interested in is the simple goal of fairness and equality, but her father still forbids Lily from talking to her anymore about such matters, effectively subjecting his daughter to the same narrow-minded, intolerant worldview that everyone around him has modeled. In the end, though, Ernestine continues to think critically about the world, becoming a civil rights activist instead of adhering to her father’s restricted worldview. The play celebrates her open-minded exploration of challenging and unpopular ideas, but it also illustrates how difficult it can be to think this way, considering that Lily—a staunch communist, feminist, and racial justice advocate—is harshly judged for her beliefs and ends up dying alone. The play thus spotlights the benefits of open-mindedly engaging in critical thought while also underlining the unfortunate hazards of doing so in a society that often rejects and vilifies people who challenge the status quo.
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness ThemeTracker
Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness Quotes in Crumbs from the Table of Joy
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.
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.
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.
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.
[…] 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?