Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is a novel that discusses several different topics. The story is about two women who meet in a nursing home. They strike up a friendship and the older woman tells the story of her family, particularly the lives of two other women, Ruth and Idgie.
Whistle Stop is the name of a very small town in rural Alabama on one of the main trunks of several railroads. Ruth and Idgie’s story takes place in the early 1900’s in and around the cafe that they own. Using flashbacks, Flagg re-creates these women’s lives and experiences from the flapper era of the 1920’s to the women’s movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Big George and his mother Sipsey are the African Americans who have the responsibility of taking care of Idgie’s family. They are the household help that are part of the family. As the story continues readers learn about Big George’s family and their relation with Ruth’s son Buddy, named after a favorite brother of Idgie who was killed in a train accident. Young Buddy is called Stump because he lost one arm in another train accident.
One of the earmarks of the novel is the rural slang used to make the story more credible, the appearance of the Ku Klux Klan at various times to remind readers of the culture of racism of the South at that time, and the predominance of the theme that all people have a responsibility to care for all who are in need. The train brings homeless men to the cafe for a meal—the black men are given food out the back door, the white men are fed inside the cafe at the table.
Love of family is the thread that appears throughout the novel. Love of birth family members, love of women for each other, love of people who are of different races, love of all, regardless of race or gender, who make up a family. The novel argues that family is based on love, not biology. Idgie is female, yet wears men’s clothing, drinks liquor “like a man,” tells tall stories, and loves Ruth and her baby with all her soul. As a result Idgie is loved, protected, and defended by all who know her.