Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe Characters

Fannie Flagg


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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 knowledge by narrating stories to the ambivalent younger woman and capturing her attention by mentioning that Idgie had been accused of murder. Ninny reveals intimate details about her life, including her regret that she never learned to drive, which symbolically would have given her more freedom and is perhaps why she urges Evelyn to earn a Mary Kay pink Cadillac. Although she is only 48 years old, Evelyn feels old, and Ninny astutely comments that she thinks Evelyn is undergoing an early menopause, which foreshadows changes in Evelyn's life. Evelyn remains mute during her first encounters with Ninny but gradually contributes to conversations, even though her participation consists of prompts to urge Ninny to finish a thought or provide more information.

Through the omniscient passages, readers learn how depressed Evelyn is as she internalizes her angry feelings and endures a mid-life crisis. Missing her grown son and daughter, she is overwhelmed by her patriarchal husband's incessant demands and realizes that he has had at least one affair with a younger and more attractive coworker. Evelyn is convinced that Ed would love her again if she lost weight and prepared more exciting meals. She succumbs to her depression, reflecting on her mother's death and feeling paralyzed. During this period of stagnation, Evelyn contemplates suicide, imagining that a cold bullet from a frozen gun might relieve the heated frenzy within her brain. Gradually, Evelyn considers the roles she has played in life as popular cheerleader and supportive wife and assesses how women are defined and grouped in a sexist society that dismisses them. She decides to reject being categorized and labeled. Ninny serves as her surrogate therapist, soothing and advising her. Evelyn even confides in Ninny while visiting Ninny's grave, updating her about her life. By bringing Ninny requested foods such as fried green tomatoes and lemon icebox pie, Evelyn increases the intimacy of their friendship, holding Ninny's hand as she speaks and eats. She reevaluates her reliance on food to comfort rather than provide sustenance.

As Ninny's mind lapses into confused thoughts and she becomes more childlike, ecstatically opening a Cracker Jack's prize, the repressed Evelyn transforms internally into Towanda, fantasizing about punishing everyone who oppresses and inflicts pain and grief on others. Evelyn first experiences anger when she is verbally assaulted at the grocery store; she realizes the illogic in both her pattern of perceiving her attackers as victims, as well as in her belief that she had provoked the incident. Evelyn erupts at Ed and goes on a mental rampage against perceived enemies, slamming into a rude driver's car in the grocery store parking lot. Ultimately, she experiences an epiphany about the universal power-relationship between men and women, briefly wishing she were a man, and exorcises her alter ego at an African-American church service, eventually finding peace within herself. During this process, Evelyn adopts healthy eating habits and, because Ninny believes in her, self-confidently decides to follow Ninny's advice to develop her talents (her flawless skin helps her sell Mary Kay makeup) and become independent and not reliant on Ed for financial and mental support.

Evelyn admires Idgie Threadgoode, short for Imogene which suggests how fidgety Idgie is. She is the daring tomboy, liar, and practical joker who everyone likes because she alleviates tension and keeps life interesting through her acts of bravery and deceit (for example, she tells everyone that Frank Bennett died in an accident to protect Ruth's integrity). Almost a mythical figure, she withstands the deaths of her dearest loves, Buddy and Ruth, and can charm wild honeybees, catch large fish, and win poker games to assure that she gets her way, such as convincing the circus elephant trainer to walk the elephant, Miss Fancy, from Birmingham to Troutville to cheer up Naughty Bird. Idgie matures from an emotional, out-of- control teenager who breaks everything in her room because she is angry when Ruth decides to return to Georgia to marry Frank Bennett (Idgie sits outside the church blowing the car horn to protest the union then makes furtive monthly trips to check on Ruth), to a cool-headed, logical woman who knows how to manipulate the truth to protect her extended family.

Unashamed of her passion for Ruth, Idgie is open about their relationship and proudly proclaims Buddy, Jr., as her son, serving as a scout leader, coaching his sports teams, ritualistically burying his arm, showing him the ball-catching three-legged dog, and teaching him to shoot turkeys one-handed. Privately, she savors the pet name "bee charmer," bestowed by Ruth and suggestive of Idgie's magical nature. Clad in men's attire throughout the novel and avidly hunting and fishing, Idgie acts masculine, even in her appreciation of Eva who is the heterosexual doeppelganger of Idgie. Although their relationship is asexual—Idgie would never cheat on Ruth—Eva and Idgie share an intimacy based on their indulgences of liquor and tobacco and respect for each other's free spirits that other women in the Whistle Stop community would find impossible to attain. Eva even joins Reverend Scroggins' fake congregation, feigning to be a devout church member who provides Idgie's alibi at her trial. She also secretly writes a note to Ruth from Idgie to ask for forgiveness when Idgie lied. Flagg distinguishes Eva's noble actions from the whorish behavior of Helen Claypoole to show that Eva is a...

(The entire section is 2853 words.)