AUGUST 12: Fried Green Tomatoes is published (…


Published on this day in 1987, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg is an
oft-overlooked and sanitized classic of lesbian literature. Weaving across time,
the novel follows a bored 1980s housewife by the name of Evelyn Couch as she
rediscovers her passion for life through hearing the tales of two women who unapologetically
lived and loved in 1930s Alabama.


While visiting her mother-in-law at the Rose Terrace Nursing
Home, Evelyn Couch meets an old woman named Ninny Threadgoode. Dealing with her
own issues of depression and loneliness, Evelyn ignores the chatty
Mrs. Threadgoode’s old stories at first, but with visit after visit she slowly
but surely gets drawn in by the stories of Mrs. Threadgoode’s hometown of
Whistle Stop, Alabama, the beloved long-gone Whistle Stop Café, and the love
story of the two women who ran it – Idgie Threadgoode and Ruth Jamison. Taken
in by the Threadgoode family from a young age, Ninny was given a front seat
view of a decades-spanning drama; after her big brother is unexpectedly killed,
tomboy Idgie is consumed by grief. It is only when an out-of-towner named Ruth
Jamison comes to stay with the family  that Idgie is shaken out of
her sadness and dives headfirst into a love affair with Ruth. Before long, Ruth
is forced to return home to Valdosta, Georgia and fulfill her promise of
marrying the wealthy Frank Bennett, but once Idgie discovers that Ruth is being abused by her new husband, Ruth is rescued and Frank Bennett mysteriously goes missing.


Although the words “lesbian” or “gay” are never used in the
novel, it is obvious from the story that Idgie and Ruth are a couple; from the
multiple “I love you”s to the fact that they raise a child together, the novel
doesn’t waste time grappling with the idea of lesbians in the 1930s or going
over the obvious homophobia they must have faced, but instead gives readers a nostalgic
and endearing love story. When the novel was adapted into an Academy Award
winning movie in 1991, the writers left in all the intriguing bits of death,
murder, and depression, but Idgie and Ruth were gal pal-ed hard. In the film, the writers changed the story where Ruth was the grieving girlfriend of Buddy Threadgoode – the dead older brother – and Idgie
was constantly turning down marriage proposals by the good ole’ country boys
who just couldn’t get over the fact that she ~wasn’t like the other girls.
Today, it is this version of the story that is most remembered and cherished by
audiences and although the true, lesbian version of Fried
Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café
has been forgotten and buried under
the legacy of its sanitized film adaptation, this only further proves the old
saying: the book is always better than the movie.