Women's voices and anecdotes dominate this novel. Because they are often overlooked, Flagg insures that women and ordinary people are heard in her novel. Idgie Threadgoode is the first and last character readers encounter in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Aging from a girl to an elderly woman, Idgie represents the free spirit that middle-aged Evelyn Couch longs to become. Evelyn, however, is the book's focal character. Her emotional and physical transformation is initiated by her contact with Ninny Threadgoode whose stories reveal to Evelyn the possibilities that she can pursue based on the past achievements and bravado of various women. While Idgie is introduced in a newspaper item from The Weems Weekly, the bulletin covering Whistle Stop news, Evelyn is first mentioned by an omniscient narrator who describes Evelyn's initial impatience with Ninny Threadgoode's reminiscences at the Rose Terrace Nursing Home in Birmingham, Alabama. Avoiding her unpleasant mother-in-law, Big Momma, another nursing home resident, Evelyn waits for her husband Ed to drive her home. Indulging in unhealthy candy bars, Evelyn is discontented with her life and annoyed by Ninny's intrusion.
Ninny, formally named Virginia (the use of nicknames encourages reader familiarity and acceptance of characters), is an octogenarian who misses her home and community. She assumes the role of a wise older woman who transfers her common sense observations and life...
(The entire section is 2853 words.)
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Evelyn Couch is miserable, overweight, depressed, and growing resentful of her husband, Ed. The Couches are symbolic of all middle-class couples struggling to find meaning in the world without getting off the couch. Evelyn has a difficult time handling her dissatisfaction with life. At first, she escapes into a fantasy life wherein she is a superhero—like Wonder Woman—who single-handedly rights the wrongs of the world. Those wrongs mostly involve the mistreatment of women at the hands of men.
Her salvation comes through the dreaded weekly visit to Big Momma at the nursing home. Evelyn goes with Ed to visit Big Momma, but usually ends up sitting by herself eating candy in the lounge. There she becomes caught up in Mrs. Threadgoode's stories. Before she knows it, Evelyn has found a friend in Mrs. Threadgoode. Bonding with another woman and hearing her life story acts as Evelyn's therapy. As a result, she is able to deal with her anxiety and build her self-esteem.
Mrs. Threadgoode shows Evelyn that she is not worthless and, in fact, could be someone who is proactive and can enjoy life. Evelyn takes the encouragement and attends a "fat farm." She loses weight and starts selling Mary Kay products. Evelyn feels better about herself, feels empowered, and is no longer sitting on the couch.
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Idgie, with her short blonde hair, is a "tomboy" who falls in love with Ruth. The pressures of normalcy would have squashed the relationship, but Idgie's parents supported their obstinate daughter, and she develops into her natural self. Idgie is able to relate and communicate freely with everyone, and she tries to treat everyone as human beings. In the segregated society she lives in, those practices may get her in trouble, but she refuses to treat people any differently.
Idgie is the most likely person to pull off the Railroad Bill stunt, though she undoubtedly has help from the Dill Pickle Club. From one point of view, Railroad Bill is the ultimate joke on Grady. From another point of view, Railroad Bill presents Idgie as a modern-day Robin Hood. Idgie fails to uphold Jim Crow laws in other ways. She stages a miracle by bringing Miss Fancy to Troutville. She is also intolerant of abuse, especially of those she loves. Thus, without thinking, she publicly confronts Frank immediately after hearing that he beats Ruth regularly.
One of Idgie's most endearing qualities is her love of mischief and her joy for life. Like the rabbit of Uncle Remus' stories, Idgie tells wild tales, has a good heart, and tries to make the world a better place. She teaches by parable and by example, not by lecture.
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Eva Bates is "just an old redheaded gal that runs a joint over by the river...A friend of ours." That joint is the Wagon Wheel Fishing Farm and it is where people go to forget their worries—a watering hole out in the woods. Eva doesn't know much about the world, but she knows how to love.
Frank Bennett is a man with an Oedipus complex. He adores his mother so much it riles his already abusive father. Everything changes for Frank when he comes home early from school to find his mother having sex with his uncle. Henceforth, he hates everyone. With inheritance and hard work, he prospers, but he also beats up, impregnates, and ruins many women in the area. Frank's left eye is a glass eye and he loves to ask strangers to guess which is the real eye. One bum guesses correctly and later tells the bartender, "The left one was the only one with even a glimmer of human compassion." Frank decides that Ruth is the woman to give him a son to carry on his family name. They marry, and he starts to abuse her regularly.
Considered an example of a lesbian relationship, Ruth and Esther are biblical figures who are heroes to the lesbian community. Ruth, in a twist on her biblical namesake, inspires steadfast loyalty. Ruth falls in love with Idgie the moment Idgie is covered by a swarm of bees. Sadly, she is engaged and must return home. Ruth marries Frank...
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