Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe Summary

Fannie Flagg

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

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Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe Summary

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Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is a 1987 novel by American author and actress Fannie Flagg. Set in both 1980s Alabama as well as decades past, it follows the blossoming friendship between Evelyn Couch, a middle-aged housewife, and Ninny Threadgoode, an elderly nursing home resident. Evelyn visits Ninny every week, and Ninny tells her stories about her youth in the small town of Whistle Stop, Alabama, where her sister-in-law Idgie and her friend Ruth ran a café. Evelyn’s friendship with Ninny allows her to make some needed changes in her life, and Evelyn does her part to make sure the stories of Ninny’s life live on. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe explores themes of family, aging, racism, and the unique culture of the American Deep South. It is well known for being one of the first books set in the region to feature a prominent lesbian couple. Critically acclaimed upon its release and personally recommended by To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee, it spend 36 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. A film adaptation, simply titled Fried Green Tomatoes, was released in 1991, receiving Academy Award nominations for Jessica Tandy’s portrayal of Ninny and for the screenplay.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe jumps between eras frequently throughout the book, with a framing story in the 1980s being used to share tales from the 1920s to 1940s. The framing story depicts Evelyn Couch paying weekly visits to the nursing home where her mother-in-law lives. While her husband pays a visit to his mother, Evelyn befriends Ninny Threadgoode, another resident of the home. They begin to talk, and Ninny tells Evelyn stories of her youth in Whistle Stop. Ninny was adopted by the Threadgoodes after her parents died, and most of her stories center around the children of the family. The principal character is the youngest daughter, Imogene “Idgie” Threadgoode. An unrepentant tomboy, she is very close to her brother Buddy and so is devastated when he’s killed in an accident on the railway tracks. She closes herself off to everyone, until one day a young woman named Ruth Jamison comes to stay with the family. Ruth is a teacher at the local Vacation Bible School, and Idgie becomes infatuated with her. However, Ruth eventually leaves Whistle Stop to marry Frank Bennett. Frank turns out to be abusive, but Ruth stays with him until her mother passes on. Afterwards, she sends a message to Idgie, who brings a group of her friends and family to rescue Ruth. Big George, the family’s handyman, intimidates Frank, and Ruth leaves with them.

With money from her father, Idgie starts the Whistle Stop Cafe with the help of Big George’s adoptive mother Sipsey. She becomes a guardian to Ruth’s son Buddy Jr., also known as “Stump” due to his missing arm, which was amputated in an accident. The café quickly becomes a safe haven and filling station for hobos traveling the rails during the Great Depression. The most common guest is “Smokey Lonesome” Phillips, a hobo who is secretly in love with Ruth. Ruth and Idgie grow older together, but Ruth eventually dies of cancer, and Idgie is heartbroken. The café closes when the railroad yard shuts down, and the town eventually disintegrates altogether. Years later, Idgie and Big George are arrested for Frank’s murder, but they’re freed when the local minister provides a false alibi for them in exchange for a kindness Idgie did his son years back. It later comes out that Sipsey killed Frank when he attempted to take Ruth’s son with him. Frank’s body is never found, because his body is barbecued and fed to the detectives investigating the case. Stump passes on these stories to his children and Big George winds up having two boys of his own. The Whistle Stop Café may be gone, but it lives on in the hearts of the Threadgoode family. Evelyn is inspired by these stories and winds up turning her own life around. She starts selling Mary Kay cosmetics and gets treatment for menopause. She starts confronting the fears and anxieties that have held her back. While on vacation, she gets a letter from a neighbor of Ninny’s, telling her that Ninny passed away. Ninny left Evelyn a collection of trinkets, letters, and stories, filling in more of the story of the Whistle Stop Cafe and the family that ran it.

Fannie Flagg, born Patricia Neal, is an American actress, comedian, and author. She was first known for her frequent appearances on the TV game show Match Game as well as appearing on the popular TV serial The Love Boat. She also had bit parts in films including Grease and Five Easy Pieces. She released her first novel, Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man in 1982 and released eight subsequent novels. She is most famous for Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and received Academy Award and Writer’s Guild of America nominations for the screenplay of the film adaptation. In 2012, she won the Harper Lee Award as Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of the Year.