Crumbs from the Table of Joy

by Lynn Nottage

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How do the Crump family members react differently to Father Divine, and why? Is Ermina's remark about racial integration justified by the play's events?

Quick answer:

Answers to the first of these questions will focus on the ways in which Father Divine's authoritarian approach to religion divides the Crump family. Responses to the second will examine the ways in which Ermina's gloomy assessment is borne out by the attack on Godfrey and the chasm of misunderstanding between Gerte and Godfrey's daughters.

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Godfrey Crump fell under the influence of Father Divine when he was grieving for his wife and consequently follows Divine's teachings with the zeal of a fanatic, as a way of avoiding the pain he feels. His dependence on Father Divine makes Godfrey's belief more of a personality cult than a religion and creates a rift between him and his daughters. This is particularly apparent when Father Divine arrogantly decides to give his followers new names, as Jesus did. Ernestine, in particular, is receptive to the comforts of religion, but her dismissal of Father Divine's methods is reasonable, since he divides the family and has nothing of substance to offer his followers. Ernestine's own comments in the epilogue suggest a more constructive and thoughtful way of being religious than Father Divine's shallow authoritarianism.

Ermina's remark, “It ain’t normal for a white lady to be living in a house with colored folks," appears to be justified by the events of the play, most notably when Godfrey is assaulted for daring to appear in public with Gerte, a white woman. The point on which you should focus here is how far Ernestine and Ermina's hostility to Gerte is a product of personal prejudice and to what extent it is an admission and reflection of society's refusal to accept interracial relationships. Gerte is portrayed as a well-intentioned woman, but there is a deep failure of understanding between her and the Black characters in the play. It seems that no amount of goodwill or kindness can overcome this failure, and the play's message in this regard echoes the bleakness of Ermina's assessment.

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