Family and home are the primary themes of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Friendship, and not genetics, determines familial relationships in Flagg's novel. The Threadgoode surname embodies these themes. Not only do the Threadgoodes exhibit goodness toward everybody, but they also are the thread that connects the disparate parts of the Whistle Stop community. Mrs. Threadgoode's maiden name, Cloud, suggests cliched meanings symbolizing optimism and happiness such as "every cloud has a silver lining" and "on cloud 9." Characters in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe are searching for a home and a sense of place. The Threadgoodes offer security and acceptance to orphans such as Ninny and their children's love interests such as Ruth. The Rose Terrace Nursing Home provides a community that parallels the childhood enjoyed by the youthful residents of Whistle Stop.
Love is a recurrent theme in the book. Characters experience love and respect for their biological kin, such as demonstrated by Idgie's devotion to Buddy and Ninny's acceptance of Albert. Love is also present in romances, which are described as deep, emotional bonds between couples and not overtly depicted as erotic. Flagg honors couples' and friends' intimacies by not exploiting private interactions unless they are crucial to plot resolution, such as the disposal of Frank Bennett's body. Although Eva is portrayed as an intensely sexual woman who has had many partners, including most of Whistle Stop's male citizens, Flagg emphasizes that Eva loves only Buddy. Her sexual initiation of Buddy, Jr., better known as Stump, when he worries about how his absent arm might affect his performance with his girlfriend Peggy, is an act of love in memory of Idgie's brother.
Friendship is closely related to love and truth in this book. While Idgie loves Ruth, she has a deep friendship with Eva based on their mutual love of her brother Buddy and their interest in gambling and drinking, addictions foreign to Ruth's pious, ordered world. Idgie can act wildly unrestrained around Eva, but, with Ruth, she has to control her urges and be civilized. Symbolically, Ruth moves out when she catches Idgie in a lie concerning her whereabouts because Idgie yearns for momentary freedom, yet Idgie is devastated at the idea of losing Ruth and promises to respect their relationship by being honest. Freedom is another theme in this novel. Slagtown offers some freedom and social mobility to Jasper, Artis, and other blacks. Characters wish they had more control over their lives: Ninny wants to move home and claims that she is only at the nursing home to take care of Mrs. Otis, and Evelyn desires to be...
(The entire section is 1097 words.)
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Race and Racism
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café explores the width and depth of race and racism. While the evidence of racism is obvious, discussion of the situation is hushed and never crosses the color line. In fact, the only person who successfully crosses that line is Idgie, who simply doesn't understand the world in those terms.
Mrs. Threadgoode and Evelyn discuss race in terms of fear. "You know, a lot of these people resent having colored nurses out here. One of them said that deep down, all colored people hate white people and if those nurses got a chance, they'd kill us off in our sleep." Evelyn later realizes that her mother raised her to fear blacks. The novel, except to hint that time is the best teacher, provides no solution to racism. If people like Evelyn can realize that, despite their liberal opinions, they are squeamish, then perhaps they can make an effort to at least cease propagating fear to their children.
A major step in Evelyn's progression toward being a self-possessed adult is being aware of society's prescribed gender coding. She realizes for herself what the feminist movement of the 1970s had been trying to tell her—it's a man's world. She had been terrified of "displeasing men" her whole life. Consequently, she walks on tiptoes, as if in "a cow pasture" in order to avoid the words a man might say to her. One day, by accident, it happens. A boy at the supermarket hurls abuse at her. Bruised but not dead, she realizes she has survived her worst nightmare and sets about examining it. Her first reaction, and an important step in terms of her growth, is to realize that "Evelyn Couch was angry." The second is to be carried away by her superhero fantasy of Towanda.
In the midst of a Towanda episode, she talks back to Ed when he habitually asks her to bring him a beer. The inadvertent outburst leads to more...
(The entire section is 798 words.)