Crumbs from the Table of Joy Characters
Godfrey is thirty-five years old and a widower. His wife, Sandra, passed away, and Godfrey so relocated his family from Florida to New York City. As of the start of the play, he has recently begun to follow the teachings and advice of a minister named Father Divine who leads the Peace Mission Movement. Godfrey found Divine shortly after his wife’s death, and he was driven to religion because of his distraught state. When the minister sent his blessing in the mail, Godfrey felt that he had been cured of his pain. He decided to move to Brooklyn to be closer to Divine and closer to God, though he did not realize until they arrived that the Peace Mission is not located in Brooklyn. Godfrey wants his daughters to remain virtuous, virginal, and obedient. Godfrey does not trust himself to make good decisions or to keep track of important information. Rather than rely on himself to remember, he writes down all of his questions so that whenever he meets Father Divine, he can be sure to ask those questions. He seems to think that if he is obedient and does as Divine does or instructs that he will feel better and have more success in his life. He does not question the principles of the Peace Mission, nor does he really understand what religion is. He can be said to worship Father Divine more than he worships God. Religion is like a pacifier for him, a thing to soothe him as if he were an upset child. He is on the whole bewildered by life. Godfrey loves his daughters and wants to give them a better life than he had, but he does not trust himself to figure out how to go about achieving this goal.
Ernestine Crump is Godfrey’s older daughter. She is seventeen and as the play begins she is preparing to graduate from high school. She is smart and thoughtful. She resents the interference of Divine in her family life. She mostly obeys her father’s wishes, going with him to church dinners and wearing white dresses. She is very affected by the appearance of her maternal aunt, Lily, whom she calls “Sister,” because she is the first outspoken black woman Ernestine has met. Lily is a communist, a free thinker, opinionated, unmarried, and independent. Ernestine imbibes Lily’s politics, even writing an essay for school about the Labor Movement (an action that gets her father branded as a communist, something he finds upsetting). By the play’s end, she does not want to follow in her father’s footsteps by taking the job he got her at the bakery. Instead, she wants to follow her aunt, becoming a free thinker who works for social change. She finds herself at City College, and graduates a few years later. As an adult, Ernestine will protest the Vietnam War, fight for civil rights, start a family, and find happiness. Unlike her father, she makes her own decisions, and trusts herself in ways he could never trust himself. As a result, she is—and will be—more in charge of her own life.
Ermina Crump is Ernestine’s younger sister. She is fifteen. She dislikes Divine’s rules even more than Ernestine does. Ermina seems to adapt more to Brooklyn culture than Ernestine. Ermina listens to new music and goes out with boys, and Ernestine believes that Ermina has begun to have sex, even at her young age. Ermina also does not learn from her aunt the way Ernestine does. Before Ernestine graduates from college, Ermina gets pregnant and has a little girl. As adults, Ermina will be more like her own mother and Ernestine will be more like their aunt. Ermina does not take advantage of opportunities and she does not learn to rely on her mental faculties, as Ernestine does.
“Sister” Lily Ann Green
Lily is Mrs. Crump’s sister, and she comes to Brooklyn to look after her nieces. She drinks and curses, reminding Godfrey of his pre-Christian life, aweing his daughters and making him uncomfortable. It seems that she hoped he would choose to be with her, and she even kisses him once. He receives the kiss, but promptly goes out and gets married, maybe in order to more successfully resist her. Lily is a communist, and she has a hard time keeping jobs because she shares her opinion more freely than white people will accept from a black woman. She is a strong, independent thinker, and she ends up suffering a violent death as a result.
Gerte is a German woman who moves to New York City after surviving the horrors of World War II. She meets Godfrey on the subway and is moved by his kindness. They get secretly married. Ernestine and Ermina are angry that Godfrey would marry a white woman—and especially so a German—and they cannot accept Gerte. Gerte tries to fit into the family but she does not understand them, and they do not understand her. When she finally confronts Godfrey about his unwillingness to pay attention to the world around him and trust himself to answer his own questions, they have a positive breakthrough in their marriage.