Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

This Fannie Flagg novel is a beautiful work of fiction, and I would recommend it to all of you.  It has an absolutely addictive story line and beautiful character development.  I would describe this book as being heart-warming, heart-breaking (yes, both of them), inspirational, relatable, hilarious, and emotional. 

When we enter this story, we are at a nursing home.  Evelyn has come because her husband wants to visit his mother.  However, she finds these visits boring, and walks down to the visitor center to eat her candy bars in peace.  Mrs. Threadgoode, an 85 year old woman, sits there with her, and begins a conversation.  Actually, its more of a giant monologue, because Evelyn tries her hardest not to respond to the endless chatter that comes from Mrs. Threadgoode's mouth.  She does listen though, and we are launched into the charming stories of 1930's Whistle Stop, Alabama.  We learn about Idgie, a stubborn, independent tomboy who is a prominent figure in the town.  We learn about Smokey, and Stump, and Ruth: Idgie's loyal friend, adopted son, and lover.  Buddy is spoken of in the earlier parts of the book, before he was run over by a train well before he reached his prime.  There is a black family who lives in Troutville that we also follow throughout the book.  Sipsey's son Big George, and his wife Onzell, have several kids that befriend Stump.  Artis and Jasper are twins, and we follow them throughout their lives simply because they are so different.
Through all this we also learn about Evelyn, her personal insecurities, and how she learns to overcome them.  We also see Mrs. Threadgoode and Evelyn become the greatest of friends.

The theme of this exquisite book, in my opinion, is to just be yourself.  Evelyn struggles through a lot of the book with her weight and self image.  In some of the first chapters we are told that she openly thinks about suicide, and knows exactly how she would do it.  Mrs. Threadgoode tries to straighten her out by telling her that a lot of these thoughts are associated with the menopause she is going through though, and eventually Evelyn starts looking forward to at least her Sunday visits with her new found friend.  We also see how the stories of Idgie's boldness and prevalence in society influence Evelyn to be more proactive.  She creates an alter-ego Towanda, who is an Amazon-woman type figure.  When bad things happen to Evelyn, she imagines being Towanda and beating the offender to a pulp.  Towanda becomes her personal defender of justice and righter of wrongs.  However, this is not the true Evelyn, and she doesn't feel completely happy until she goes to a black church and discovers the joy in natural life.  Once Evelyn learns to be herself, she becomes a productive, cheerful woman who sees her life as having half left, instead of being half gone.  Evelyn is most definitely a dynamic character.
Buddy Jr (Stump) also learns to be himself.  He finds himself not able to do many things after a horrible train accident that takes most of his one arm.  He can't play with double guns like the other boys.  He's afraid to let himself love because he's afraid of having sex.  He doesn't think he'll be able to maintain his balance.  Idgie refuses to let him think pitiful thoughts about himself though, and does everything in her power to show him how much he is really worth, physically disabled or not.  Through Idgie's lessons Stump learns to be himself, and becomes not only Whistle Stop's best shot with a rifle, but the high school's star quarterback.

This wonderful story's protagonist would be our lovely Mrs. Evelyn Couch. She is a very troubled woman when we first meet her.  In our first encounter with her history, we learn that she tried to be the good girl in school.  She never smoked, drank, or had sex.  She married a nice man and did everything that he told her to.  She wasn't happy though.  She never understood the pleasures of sex; she only did it to please her husband.  She didn't like childbirth, even after seeing the baby.  She hated how Ed (her husband) told her to leave her kids alone, and not raise them with the endless amounts of love she wanted to.  It disturbed her that her daughter was smoking marijuana and having sex and fifteen, but she didn't know what she could do to stop it.  All these things taught her that, even though she had been a 'good girl' in her teenage years, it did nothing but make her miserable during her adult life. 
We learn a lot about Evelyn through direct stories of her life.  A lot of the characters of Whistle Stop are revealed to us through stories of others, but Evelyn's characterization is flat out told to us.  I think this is interesting, and it might have been done to bring special attention to her character.

Our author uses a lot of figurative language in this book.  You see a lot of hyperboles because Idgie is so good at telling tall tales.  Once, she told her hobo friend Smokey that a flock of geese flew off with a lake frozen to their feet!  These hyperboles are hilarious and very refreshing.  Sometimes they are used as a sort of comic relief, because this story has a lot of serious chapters in between the funny ones.  We also see similes and metaphors in this novel.  Once, Flagg describes the circus elephant Miz Fancy with a simile.  She wrote "She took the peanuts from the little girl, one at a time, as gently as a gloved woman getting a dime out of a change purse."  I like this example in particular because it's not only a very good simile, but an excellent use of imagery.  Personification is also used in Fried Green Tomatoes.    They describe Evelyn's release from her emotional struggle as being like a heavy burden flying away.
Most of this figurative language is used to describe stories of Whistle Stop life, but some of it is used to describe Evelyn's change of heart and perception.  I believe this is the author's purpose, to teach us to change for the better, to be ourselves.

I would recommend this excellent book to ALL of you, and I, personally, can not wait to go and find the movie on Netflix!

1 comment:

  1. Great book...decent movie. Don't get your hopes up too high. Like most movies based on books, it doesn't do it justice!


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