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.
Part I Summary
Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café weaves together the past and the present in a story of the blossoming friendship between Evelyn Couch, a middle-aged housewife, and Ninny Threadgoode, an elderly woman who lives in a nursing home. Every week Evelyn visits Ninny, who recounts her memories of Whistle Stop, Alabama where her sister-in-law Idgie and her friend Ruth ran a café. These stories, along with Ninny's friendship, enable Evelyn to begin a new, satisfying life.
The novel opens with a 1929 column from The Weems Weekly, Whistle Stop, Alabama's weekly newspaper, announcing the opening of the Whistle Stop Café, run by owners Idgie Threadgoode and Ruth Jamison, with cooking done by "two colored women," Onzell and Sipsey, and barbecue by Onzell's husband, Big George. The narrative then jumps to December 1985 when Evelyn arrives at the Rose Terrace Nursing Home in Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband, Ed, to visit Big Momma, his mother. As Evelyn sits in the visitors' lounge eating candy bars, she meets Ninny, who begins to tell stories about the Threadgoode family. Flagg intersperses descriptions of the past, gained through Ninny's memories and columns from The Weems Weekly, with the story of the developing friendship between Ninny and Evelyn. Ninny explains that she grew up next to the Threadgoodes and married Cleo, one of their boys. Most of her stories focus on Idgie, who "used to do all kinds of crazy harebrained things just to get you to laugh."
Ninny tells Evelyn about the untimely death of Buddy, Idgie's popular brother, and Idgie's generosity to hobos, like Smokey Phillips, who often stopped at the café for a hot meal. When Idgie started selling food to blacks who came to the back door, the local sheriff warned her that if she continued, the Ku Klux Klan would come after her. Idgie, however, refused to stop. At home Evelyn recalls her own past, deciding she...
(The entire section is 1,571 words.)