Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 482
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.
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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 became "lost along the way...The world had become a different place, a place she didn't know at all." Her feelings of uselessness and her inability to stop eating fill her with despair and thoughts of suicide.
When, in 1924, twenty-one-year-old Ruth came to Whistle Stop to take charge of activities at the local church, Idgie promptly developed a crush on her. One day while Idgie and Ruth picnicked by a stream, a swarm of bees covered Idgie as she extracted wild honey from a beehive. After they flew off, Ruth collapsed in tears, voicing her fear that Idgie would be harmed. Both then admitted their love for each other, which prompted Ruth's decision to go back home and marry her fiancé, Frank Bennett. Idgie, wild with grief, found comfort with Eva, a woman Buddy had loved. At night, Evelyn imagines herself at Whistle Stop with all the figures from Ninny's past, which helps her forget about her problems for a while and fall sleep.