Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

by Fannie Flagg

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What are some symbols in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg?

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A notable symbol is that of trains. The name of the town where Ninny Threadgoode grew up and the setting of the flashbacks that comprise most of the narrative is Whistle Stop, Alabama. The town and its people identify themselves directly with the train that provides many with employment and a connection to the world outside Whistle Stop. Further, a pivotal moment of the story occurs when Buddy is killed by a train. Later, Buddy Jr. loses his arm in a train accident. Even later, when the train no longer stops in the town, it is as if the train takes the life force of the town with it. Thus, the train can be seen as a symbol of action, danger, vitality, and the passing of time.  

Another key symbol is the fried green tomatoes of the title. The tomatoes link the present story centering on the relationship between Ninny and Evelyn and the flashback story that focuses on Idgie and Ruth’s relationship. Green tomatoes could be seen as inadequate, fruit that has failed to ripen. However, the fried dish using the otherwise unpalatable product transforms the green tomato into a food of comfort to be shared with loved ones. Ninny takes pride in the fried green tomatoes they used to serve in the café, and Evelyn serves them to her friend as a gesture of gratitude. The female characters of the story can be interpreted as “green tomatoes” themselves in that they don’t fit society’s accepted roles for women, feeling invalidated because of their sexuality, age, or lack of self esteem.  

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One of the symbols in the book is the fried green tomatoes themselves. This is a type of vegetable dish that Idgie and Ruth serve at the Whistle Stop Cafe and one of the foods that they are known for cooking. Evelyn listens to Ninny's stories about fried green tomatoes and makes the dish herself. The dish is clearly an acquired taste, and it is also symbolic of the connections and shared tastes between women in the novel--between Idgie and Ruth and between Evelyn and Ninny in the part of the book that takes place later.

Food is a way of showing love and connection in the novel. For example, Idgie is willing to be covered with bees to procure honey for Ruth. After shaking off the bees and giving Ruth the honey, Idgie says, "Just think, Ruth, I never did it for anyone else before" (page 85). Idgie is willing to risk getting stung by bees to get Ruth honey, and Ruth's response is to cry and say that she would be bereft if anything happened to Idgie. Honey is a symbol of the love they share. Similarly, Evelyn sees food as a form of love. She often eats candy bars when she feels disconnected from her husband. When her husband visits his mother at the nursing home, "Evelyn had just escaped them both and had gone into the visitors' lounge in the back, where she could enjoy her candy bar in peace and quiet" (page 3). Evelyn tucks into a candy bar as a way to find solace when she feels pushed aside, and she associates candy with comfort and the kind of love she is looking for but doesn't find in her life. 

Railroads and trains are another symbol in the novel, and they represent the twists and turns of fate. Whistle Stop "wasn't never nothing more than a railroad town" (page 102), and the town and cafe depend on the railroad. Railroad Bill is a character who tosses food and coal off the train tracks for people, and his actions represent a way in which trains can bring benefits to people in the town. Trains, however, are also the force that kill Buddy, Idgie's brother, and that cause Ruth's and Idgie's son, Buddy, Jr., to lose his arm. When trains stop going to the town, the town largely dies out. Trains symbolize fate, as they can bring both life and death. 

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