- Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
name = Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
image_caption = First edition cover
language = English
genre = Fiction
August 12, 1987
media_type = Print (
pages = 403 pp
isbn = ISBN 039456152X
"Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe" is a 1987 best selling
novelby Fannie Flagg. In 1991 the novel was adapted into the film "Fried Green Tomatoes."
The story jumps narration and sequence and is distinctive in chapter opening visuals to establish the date and the source of the chapter. Some come from the fictional newspaper in Whistle Stop,
Alabamacalled "The Weems Weekly". Some come from the Couch's house in Birmingham, and others fill in some of the more intimate details of the stories told about the characters.
The story is told through many generations and begins in 1985 with an unfulfilled housewife named Evelyn Couch, who visits her mother-in-law, who dislikes her, at an Alabama
nursing home. While avoiding her, Evelyn meets nursing home resident Ninny Threadgoode, who begins to tell her random stories of her home in Whistle Stop, beginning in the 1920s. Evelyn becomes so interested in the stories of Whistle Stop that her life begins to take new meaning in the characters in Mrs. Threadgoode's history.
Ninny Threadgoode grew up in a bustling house after being adopted by the Threadgoode family and eventually married one of the brothers. Her first love, however, was young Buddy Threadgoode, whose pet of all the children was the youngest girl, Idgie (Imogene). An unrepentant
tomboy, Idgie learned her charm from Buddy. Buddy died tragically, when a train hit him, and high school-aged Idgie was devastated. Nothing civilized her until a few summers later when beautiful and virtuous Ruth Jamison came to live with the family while she taught Vacation Bible School. The family and servants watched with amusement as Idgie fell head over heels in love with Ruth, but when Ruth went home to Georgia to marry a man she was promised to, once more, Idgie drank too much, lived in the woods, and fell apart.
After a few years, Idgie went to check up on Ruth and discovered that her husband, Frank Bennett, was abusing her. When Ruth's mother died of illness soon after, a page torn from the
Book of Ruthin the Bible was sent to the Threadgoode house (appropriately Ruth 1:16, "But Ruth said, 'Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.'"), and Idgie, her brother Julian, and Big George (son of the Threadgoode cook, Sipsey) went to Georgia to bring the pregnant Ruth home. Frank resisted, but Ruth came home and promised never to leave Idgie again. Papa Threadgoode gave Idgie money to start a business so that she could care for Ruth and their son. She bought the cafe where Sipsey and her daughter-in-law Onzell cooked, and Big George, married to Onzell, made the best barbecue in Alabama.
Idgie and Ruth raised Ruth's son, and the cafe became known all over the US during
The Great Depressionthrough the communication of hobos, especially half-time Whistle Stop resident Smokey Lonesome. It had a reputation for feeding men down on their luck, and Idgie and Ruth got in trouble from local law enforcement when they decided to serve black customers from the back door at lowered prices. It was about this point that Georgia detectives started asking about the suspicious disappearance of Ruth's ex-husband.
Evelyn Couch becomes so entwined in Mrs. Threadgoode's stories that she begins to live them in her mind, and she realizes how purposeless her life has become and how pointless her reasons were for caring about people's opinions while growing up. Overweight and virtually ignored by her husband, Evelyn becomes inspired by Idgie's boldness and audacity and creates an alter-ego named Towanda, a hyper-violent, Amazon-like character who lashes out at people. Made uneasy by how much satisfaction she feels at lashing out, Evelyn confesses to Mrs. Threadgoode what is happening. She gets a job with
Mary Kay Cosmeticsand, at Mrs. Threadgoode's suggestion, starts to take hormonesfor menopause.
Prodded on by Evelyn, Ninny resumes her story. For years the cafe ran--through
World War IIand into the 1950s. Idgie and Ruth's son grew up, and the lives of the town members moved on. However, when Ruth died of cancer, the life went out of the cafe. Soon after, Idgie herself was arrested along with Big George for the murder of Frank Bennett when his car was found at the bottom of a lake outside of Whistle Stop. The case is dismissed at the trial when the local minister, paying Idgie back for anonymously bailing his son out of jail, lies on the stand and testifies that she and Big George were at a three day revival the weekend Frank Bennett went missing. Bennett's body was never found, but it is revealed toward the end that Sipsey killed him as he came in the cafe to kidnap Ruth's infant son by slamming a cast ironskillet on his head. Big George barbecued the body, and Sipsey buried the head in the Threadgoodes' garden.
Evelyn gets called home from a weight loss camp when Mrs. Threadgoode dies. Evelyn visits her grave, driving her new pink
Cadillac. After visiting her grave, Evelyn notices a note from Idgie on Ruth's grave, placed there moments before.
In an epilogue, it is revealed that Idgie is still alive and now sells honey by a roadside stand.
*The "Whistle Stop Cafe" is loosely based on an actual restaurant, the Irondale Cafe in
Irondale, Alabama--approximately between 1915 and 1935. The restaurant is still in operation and somewhat of a local tourist attraction, thanks to the novel and feature film. It is famous for its fried green tomatoes. The cafe is located adjacent to the main line of the Norfolk Southern Railroad(formerly Southern Railway) and very near one of the line's large classification yards. Irondale is a suburb of Birmingham, Flagg's birthplace.
*The "Whistle Stop Cafe" that was in the film was located in Juliette, Georgia and is a currently functioning restaurant.
* Evelyn Couch - an unfulfilled housewife who seems lost and without direction and who becomes empowered after listening to Mrs. Threadgoode's stories of the characters of Whistle Stop--Idgie in particular.
* Ninny Threadgoode - patient in the Rose Terrace Nursing Home along with Ed's mother; She is eighty-six when Evelyn knows her, but recounts her memories starting about when she was eleven years old. She married into the Threadgoode family, but grew up with them after having been adopted unofficially.
* Idgie Threadgoode - the youngest girl of the Threadgoode family who is known for her irreverent and downright shocking behavior for a young lady in the 1920s and 30's. She has Buddy's irresistible charm but cannot stay away from poker, booze, and her "Dill Pickle Club" which is created for the sole reason of making up as many outrageous lies as possible. Idgie and Ruth were based on Fannie Flagg's Aunt Bess and "her friend", characters in "
Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man" (another Flagg novel). Aunt Bess is a zany woman who plays jokes on everyone and shoots up the floor of her cafe to break up fights.
* Ruth Jamison - known for her arresting beauty and sweetness. Idgie falls in love with her and she with Idgie, but she goes home to Georgia to fulfill a promise to marry an abusive alcoholic who later disappears under suspicious circumstances after Idgie brings her back.
* Sipsey Peavy - a cook who has been with the Threadgoode family since she was a girl; Big George's adopted mother. It was her idea to bury Frank Bennett's head in the garden because she was superstitious that any wild animal that came into the house had to have its head buried. Killed Frank Bennett when he tried to kidnap Stump as an infant.
* Onzell Peavy - Big George's wife and a cook in the cafe. Ruth's closest friend and nurse when she was ill with cancer.
* Big George Peavy - the expert responsible for the barbecue at the cafe. Took the blame of Frank's disappearance for his mother who was elderly by the time anyone was charged for it.
Feminismwas a theme in the novel, as Evelyn Couch became a symbol of lost housewives who felt they had no direction. The "Towanda!" bumper sticker became popular in the 1990s--an homage to a very famous scene in the book and movie in which Evelyn exacts revenge on a younger woman who stole her parking space. Ruth's feeling of being trapped in her marriage with an abusive husband is another part of this theme, as well as Idgie's acting and living of her personal life, unwilling to be a good housewife. Lesbianismwas a theme in the novel, as the relationship between Idgie and Ruth was curiously celebrated by the entire town of Whistle Stop. Although it was not labeled a lesbian relationship, every resident knew about Idgie and Ruth, accepted it, and loved them for who they were. This relationship was minimized in the film version of "Fried Green Tomatoes" when the events placed Ruth and Buddy Threadgoode together, and Idgie was much younger than Ruth, suggesting that Ruth loved Idgie because she was Buddy's sister. Many reviews of the film version critiqued what was viewed as a "glossing over" of this theme, although the film received an award from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation(GLAAD). Racismin the American South is a major theme.
*Sipsey, Onzell, Big George and their children are explored as characters. When Big George is put on trial with Idgie, Sipsey's fear is that he will do time in prison which is significantly more miserable as a black person. Idgie also stands trial with him, trying to clear him, because she knows he will not stand a chance being a black man accused of killing a white one, whereas, as a woman, and with any luck, she should be able to get out of the death sentence.
*Big George's son Artis does time in Kilbey Prison for assaulting a dogcatcher in the city of Birmingham.
*Artis' life on the black side of Birmingham during the 1930s and 1940s is described exquisitely in the book.
*Artis' brother Jasper is a
Pullman Porter, and chose to buy a house in a white suburb of Birmingham, Dynamite Hill, refusing to leave, even when his house was burned down.
*One of Jasper's children, having inherited from her father's fair skin, pretends to be a white woman, to enjoy better treatment and be able to use the white elevator in a Birmingham department store.
*Frank Bennett spies on his infant son under the pretense of being in a
Ku Klux Klanexercise to intimidate Idgie and Ruth for serving to black customers.
*One of Idgie's best friends, Grady Kilgore, working for the train companies as some kind of local sheriff, is also a member of the local
Ku Klux Klan, which he tries to deny when Idgie confronts him about it. Agingis a theme, as Evelyn goes through menopause and watches Mrs. Threadgoode, who is eighty-six years old, begin to lose her focus and deteriorate. Foodis a literary theme to the point that Flagg included the recipes served by the cafe at the end of the book.
Literary reception and criticism
"Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe" spent 36 weeks on the
New York Times Bestseller List. [http://www.aetn.org/samepage/ar6.html] Harper Leegave a rare recommendation for the book, saying, "Airplanes and television have removed the Threadgoodes from the Southern scene. Happily for us, Fannie Flagg has preserved a whole community of them in a richly comic, poignant narrative that records the exuberance of their lives, the sadness of their departure. Idgie Threadgoode is a true original: Huckleberry Finnwould have tried to marry her!" [ [http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780449911358&view=rg Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg - Reader's Guide - Books - Random House ] ]
* [http://www.thewhistlestopcafe.com Website of the location of the cafe in the movie]
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