Crumbs from the Table of Joy


Lynn Nottage

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Crumbs from the Table of Joy, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Racism and Opportunity Theme Icon

Crumbs From the Table of Joy deals directly with the harsh reality of racism in the United States and the seemingly ever-present threat it poses to Black Americans. Set in the 1950s, the play spotlights the Crumb family’s attempt to escape the injustices of the Jim Crow (racial segregation) laws by traveling from the South to New York City. And yet, the play suggests that escaping racism isn’t as easy as simply leaving the South, as Godfrey and his daughters Ernestine and Ermina still face bigotry and prejudice in the North—an indication that hatred and bigotry are unfortunately pervasive throughout the country.

It is precisely because of this pervasiveness that Ernestine and Ermina’s aunt Lily wants to teach the girls about the need for a cultural “revolution,” trying to show them that they should strive for power and a sense of independence, which Lily implies is the only way Black Americans will be able to push back against the racist power structures that have historically oppressed and disenfranchised them. Lily tells Ernestine that she should find a job that will make her “essential,” since this will make it more difficult for people to discriminate against her. According to Lily, it’s important for young Black women like Ernestine to actively seek out opportunity, success, and power instead of passively letting life “happen” to them. Change, in other words, isn’t just going to come about on its own. Ernestine seems to come to this conclusion for herself after her father is attacked by racists for having married Gerte, who’s white. Although Godfrey and Gerte clearly want to believe they live in a society in which interracial marriages don’t attract hatred and violence, Ernestine sees once and for all that this isn’t the case. The play therefore advocates for pragmatically recognizing the unfortunate reality of racism and then working to counteract it—which is what Ernestine does by pursuing an education and becoming a civil rights activist.

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Racism and Opportunity ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Racism and Opportunity appears in each scene of Crumbs from the Table of Joy. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Racism and Opportunity Quotes in Crumbs from the Table of Joy

Below you will find the important quotes in Crumbs from the Table of Joy related to the theme of Racism and Opportunity.
Prologue Quotes

ERNESTINE. […] Divine was God, and God was liable do as he pleased, but you see Daddy was just a poor colored man — (Godfrey looks up from his newspaper.)

GODFREY. (With Ernestine.) from Pensacola, and I gone out my way to keep trouble a few arms lengths ’way. I don’ want to wind up like them Scottsboro boys, but you wouldn’t remember. (Godfrey speaks, Ernestine mouths the words:) Terrible mess, terrible mess.

Related Characters: Ernestine Crump (speaker), Godfrey Crump (speaker), Ermina Crump, Father Divine
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:
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 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:

[…] 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 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?


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: