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Literature / Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
aka: Fried Green Tomatoes

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Ruth, Idgie, and the whistle stop cafe

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is a 1987 novel by Fannie Flagg (yes, the one from Match Game). It was adapted into the film Fried Green Tomatoes, which was released in 1991.

Fried Green Tomatoes tells the story of two relationships. The first, set in the modern day, is a friendship between Evelyn Couch, a dissatisfied, middle-age, menopausal housewife too frightened of death to commit suicide, and Ninny Threadgoode, a boisterous and talkative octogenarian who bolsters Evelyn's spirits with her storytelling. The story she tells is of another pair of women: Tomboy Idgie Threadgoode and Southern Belle Ruth Jamison, who ran a cafe together in Depression-era Alabama.

Ninny's rambling stories of Idgie and Ruth, their family and friends, and the colorful crowd attracted by the cafe, soon become the only thing Evelyn looks forward to. Gradually the stories converge on a single event: the murder of Frank Bennett, Ruth's abusive husband, who vanished without a trace over fifty years ago after a late-night visit to the cafe.


Mrs. Threadgoode's love of life, even as her own moves toward its end, leads Evelyn to realize all the possibilities open to her and allows her to finally make peace with her own fear of death.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the novel, Ninny describes herself as a very tall, plain, big-boned woman who is still rather large and robust even in old age. In the film she's played by fragile, bird-like Jessica Tandy, who was quite a looker when she was young.
  • Agitated Item Stomping: Buddy "Stump" Jamison stomps an erector set he got for Christmas flat. While this is treated like a temper tantrum, an Erector Set—which uses nuts and bolts—is a rather thoughtless gift to give a one-armed kid.
  • Ambiguously Gay: The movie decided to play Idgie and Ruth's relationship as a more subtle and heavily implied thing, rather than outright stating to the camera they were lovers. The book on the other hand was quite explicit.
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  • Asshole Victim: Frank Bennett. Nobody gave a damn that this man died, not even the judge presiding over Idgie and Big George's trial, who was actually quite happy that the man was dead.
  • Bait-and-Switch: A particularly tense one in the court scene.
  • Bee Afraid: Averted. Idgie can walk right up to a beehive, jam her hand in it, and rip out a fist full of honeycombs without getting stung.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: What really happened to Frank Bennett? Did he just take off into the night? Drown himself? Or did the sweet tiny elderly black woman he had knocked out moments before crack his head with a frying pan, then serve his roasted flesh as pork in the cafe? Or maybe he just went fishing.
    • And there's Evelyn when she gets revenge on the two young ladies who stole her parking spot and then insulted her by pummeling their car to smithereens.
    Evelyn: Face it girls, I'm older and I have more insurance.
  • Bi the Way: Eva Bates is heavily implied to be Idgie's first time and for awhile the two are kinda Friends with Benefits.
  • Brick Joke: Sipsey holds a superstition about the heads of dead animals, so she buries them in the garden, where the nutrients make the vegetables grow huge. Later, Dot Weems can't figure out how Sipsey grew butterbeans the size of silver dollars. Later, when Big George comes to dispose of Frank Bennett's body, he finds the head already missing, leading him to suspect his superstitious mother buried it in the garden. Decades later, the skull is finally discovered by workmen bulldozing the property...but by then nearly everyone in the story is either dead or long-since moved away and there's no one left to connect it to Frank's disappearance.
  • Child by Rape: Stump. It's never stated directly, but Ruth's description of her married life makes it pretty plain that none of her sexual encounters with her husband were consensual. Stump never suffers for this and Ruth never loves him any less for the circumstances of his conception.
  • Compressed Adaptation: Quite a lot. The book covers nearly eighty years in the life of a small town and its residents, many of whom have greatly expanded roles and even whole arcs that are never hinted at in the film.
    • The major omission on this front seems to be Big George's family. His children are greatly expanded upon in the book and we get to follow their adventures into adulthood; Evelyn even gets to meet some of his descendants. In the film, we see only his daughter Naughty Bird.note 
    • Evelyn and Ed's adult children are never mentioned. Neither is Evelyn's suicidal impulses or her grief at the death of her mother (which is a much bigger motivation in the book than her menopause).
    • The book contains a final scene in which we learn that Idgie, while elderly, is still very much alive and charming bees with her brother Julian.
  • Corrupt Hick: Both played straight and averted with various characters.
    • And the book has one of the most positive ones in existence: Apparently no one knew that the judge at Frank Bennet's murder trial was the father of one of his rape victims.
    • The judge can see that the book the Reverend swears on isn't a Bible, and he's smart enough to realize that the good churchgoing folk speaking in Idgie's defense are just "a pack of scrubbed-up lowlifes" (they are in fact the numerous homeless men that Idgie has fed and employed over the years) whose testimony exonerates a woman and a black man accused of killing the man who raped and ruined the judge's daughter. The judge's interior monologue reveals that not only does he not care that Frank Bennett is dead, but if someone else killed him, then went to the trouble of this elaborate production to protect the murderer, they probably had a good reason for it, and he dismisses the charges.
  • Creator Cameo: Fannie Flagg showed up herself as a bizarre relationship expert.
  • Deep South: As per usual Flagg work, it shows both the best of it and very very worse.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: To most younger readers, who are brought up in a world where political correctness is highly valued, the easy way that the characters in the book use the word nigger is very strange and highly offensive. Absolutely justified, though, as that was how people talked to black people in the early parts of the 20th century, even with people like Grady, who liked Big George and his family, but talked more down to him, when he was surrounded by other police officers.
    • Ninny saying what a courageous thing it was of Ruth to leave her husband. With divorce rates being rather common, some might think it's not that big and think the courage comes from leaving an abusive husband and fear of retaliation. But then one remembers that Ruth left her husband in the 1930s, where divorce was a huge No-No and 'when you got married, you stayed married'.
  • Did They or Didn't They?: It's unclear what happens after Eva Bates leads a grieving Idgie to a bedroom and switches off the lights.
  • Domestic Abuse: Frank Bennett beats Ruth Jamieson.
  • Doorstop Baby: Of a sort. A woman dares not come home with a child because her husband has been in prison for years. Sipsey, who has always wanted a child, races down to the train station to get it. She names the baby George after George Pullman, inventor of the Pullman railroad car.
  • Finally Found the Body: Frank Bennet's truck is found in the river. Years later, while the cafe is being bulldozed, workers find Bennet's skull in the garden.
  • Food Fight: The director left bowls of weapons on each side of the room for Idgie and Ruth to use in the scene, and told them to improvise. The insanity and laughter going on is real. He also said it was supposed to be a metaphor for a sex scene.
  • Freudian Excuse: Novel Only: Why is Frank Bennet the scum of the Earth? Because he was the child of an abusive father and walked in on his mother having an affair. Now he hates all women. Passionately.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: Sipsey clobbers Frank Bennet over the head with one to keep him from kidnapping Stump. Frank doesn't survive.
  • Good Bad Girl: Eva Bates.
  • Hanging Judge: Judge Smoote finally has who he thinks are Frank Bennet's killers in his courtroom. He's been after them for years. Although the exonerating evidence is the biggest load of crap he's ever seen, he throws out the charge of murder.
  • Happily Adopted: Big George, adopted son of Sipsey.
  • Has Two Mommies: Stump has Ruth and Idgie.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Eva Bates.
  • Human Resources: Frank Bennett gets cut into steaks and served in the diner
  • I Am A Humanitarian: After Sipsey kills Bennet, she and the others at the Whistle Stop Cafe take a page from Sweeney Todd and serve him to the investigator looking for Bennet in order to hide the body.
  • Imagine Spot: Done multiple times with Evelyn Couch.
  • Inspector Javert: Smoote's own daughter was raped by Bennet, but he still hunts for Frank's killer. He does talk to Idgie about his daughter when investigating and suggests she make sure no evidence is left to be found. He later becomes the judge at Idgie and Big George's murder trial. by which time his daughter has died, and he dismisses the case despite knowing the evidence of innocence is fake.
  • Ironic Echo: There's a family joke told several times in the film about a flock of ducks landing in a small pond. The first time it's told by Buddy to Ruth right before he's killed. The last time it's told it's told is by Idgie to Ruth on Ruth's deathbed. Ruth wanted it to be the last thing she heard as she was dying.
    • Two young women steal Evelyn's parking spot at the supermarket and then smartmouth Evelyn when she calls them out: "Face it, lady, we're younger and faster!" Evelyn, newly confident and assertive after hearing the story of Idgie and Ruth, then gets revenge by ramming their car repeatedly, and boasts to the girls, "Face it, girls, I'm older and I have more insurance."
  • Kissing Cousins: Ruth and Idgie in the novel (though they're related by marriage, not by blood, and it's never established to what degree they're cousins).
  • The Lad-ette: From childhood, Idgie abhorred all things girly to the point that she nearly ruined her sister's wedding by refusing to wear a bridemaid's dress (though she acquiesced when offered green velvet knee pants as a substitute). She hunts, fishes, drinks, smokes, plays poker, jumps trains, swears like a sailor, has Boyish Short Hair, is not afraid to start a fistfight, and most of her friends are men.
  • Lethal Chef: Subverted—Sipsey's a Supreme Chef but what she did to Frank with a Frying Pan of Doom was very literally lethal.
    • Idgie is a straight example, stating upon opening the café that she is not the one cooking.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: The novel. It's fairly easy to keep track of them, however.
  • Mercy Kill: In the novel, Onzell does this for Ruth, who is dying slowly and painfully of cancer.
  • Never Got to Say Goodbye: In the novel, Idgie and Stump were out collecting leaves and pinecones for Ruth's sick-room when she died.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Sipsey.
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge: Grady, despite being a racist himself, stands up to a crowd of out-of-town Klansmen when they attack Big George. In the novel he's a Klan-attending bigot who uses the N-word frequently. He's also half of Railroad Bill, and breaks into boxcars to throw canned food into black communities so their residents won't starve.
    • He's a Klansman in the movie as well, as Idgie points out because she recognizes his shoes when he's in his robes, and when he says he "doesn't recognize" the Georgian Klansmen that show up in Whistlestop. Apparently Whistlestop Klansmen have different standards for how they treat black people than the Georgia ones.
      • Except he actually isn't. Idgie mentions offhandedly that she recognizes the "size fourteen clodhoppers" she believes Grady wears. In a deleted scene, Grady reveals the truth—his feet (and thus his shoes) are actually quite small, and thus he couldn't have been who Idgie saw in those robes.
  • One-Woman Wail: A slow gospel version is sung throughout some scenes.
  • Parking Payback: Evelyn rear-ends a car that stole her parking spot... six times.
  • Pass Fail: One of the novel's subplots is about a black character who is able to pass as white, only to cause trouble to a relative who recognized her without realizing she was trying to pass.
  • Plot Hole: The novel has a conversation taking place between Stump and Idgie in October 1947, with Idgie saying that Ruth is at the school. A later chapter reveals that Ruth died February 1947.
  • Professional Sex Ed: When teenage Stump confesses his fear of sex (he's afraid to try due to his missing arm), Aunt Idgie piles him in the car and takes him to her old friend Eva Bates, who presumably makes a man out of him.
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: Two instances of this trope happen in the story. In the second incident, the victim did not walk away in one piece. In the first, the victim didn't walk away at all.
  • Related in the Adaptation: An odd but minor example: in the novel, the woman Ed and Evelyn visit in the nursing home is Ed's unnamed mother. In the film, they go to visit Ed's Aunt Vesta. (In the novel, Vesta is a long-time resident of Whistle Stop whom Mrs. Threadgoode has known for many years; in the film, they're only fellow nursing home residents, and there's no evidence that they knew each other previously.)
    • Inverted with Ruth and Buddy Threadgoode: in the film, they're love interests. In the novel, Ruth is cousin to the Threadgoode children and Buddy was dead well before she ever came to Whistle Stop; there's no indication that she ever met him.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: The prosecuter thinks that Idgie and her cook killed Frank Bennett but Judge Smoote dismisses the case anyways. Unbeknownst to him, the real killer is the cook's adoptive mother.
  • Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: Between Idgie and Ruth. See also Ambiguously Gay.
  • Scrapbook Story: The novel tells various characters' stories through traditional narrators, newspaper clippings and the local Whistlestop newspaper The Weems Weakly. The end of the book even has recipes from the titular restaurant.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Ninny survives until the end of the film. She dies in the novel.
  • Straw Feminist: Various purposefully comical stereotypes show up in Evelyn's time, and after getting caught up in the story, Evelyn herself becomes an aggressive female-empowerment activist for a while before calming down.
    Ninny: How many of them hormones you takin', honey?
  • Tap on the Head: Justified, Frank Bennet died after a one smack on the head with a frying pan. A very heavy, iron frying pan that weighed about 5 pounds and swung by a woman with both hands.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Idgie and Ruth.
  • The Trickster: Idgie exhibits almost all the characteristics: disdain for social conventions, dubious relationship with the truth, gender-bending behavior, seeming immortality.
  • Unkempt Beauty: In spite of her tomboyish attire, Idgie attracts her share of male interest, and in the film she is portrayed by the golden tousled hair and arresting jawline of Mary Stuart Masterson.
  • Wham Line: Mrs Threadgoode says a line early on that makes Evelyn really pay attention to what she's been blathering on about.
    Mrs Threadgoode: "She was a character all right, but how anybody ever could have thought that she killed that man is beyond me."

Alternative Title(s): Fried Green Tomatoes


Example of: