My first impression of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café was that it was a “woman’s” novel. This was because the movie, which was more popular than the book, was advertised as a “chick flick”. To say the least, I was wrong. The novel poses many issues that face the people of the 1920’s and 30’s, and makes one think about what people have struggled through. The novel addresses the issue of racism before the time of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.
It tells of the struggles women must go through when they reach menopause; the big change. However, the main plot line tells the story of two women, Idgie Threadgoode and Ruth Jamison, and the trials and tribulations of their life in the 1920’s and 30’s. Idgie and Ruth are business partners, best friends, and in the eyes of many, also lesbians. “[Fried Green Tomatoes] represents around the issue of lesbianism, depicting a strong and intense friendship between two white women (the tomboy Idgie Threadgoode and the fern Ruth Jamison), but never committing itself one way or another” (Pelligrini 7).
There have not been many stories written about homosexuality in the first half of the twentieth century. That is why Fannie Flagg does not just come out and say that Idgie and Ruth are lesbians. In turn, the idea that Idgie and Ruth are lesbians is a subject that has been under heated debate. However, there are many episodes between Idgie and Ruth that are undeniable proof that they are homosexuals. The idea that Idgie and Ruth are lesbians is rampant throughout the story. It is evidenced by the way they speak to each other and act towards each other, but the idea is subverted due to the fact that everyone in the town sees Idgie as a man.
The idea that Idgie and Ruth are lesbians can be misunderstood. To say that they are a lesbian couple does mean that they are sexually involved with each other. However, whether or not Idgie and Ruth are sexually involved is a decision that is left up to the reader. Flagg does not describe in the novel any sexual experiences between Idgie and Ruth. This is because the idea of lesbianism is a touchy subject and could have changed the idea that novel was trying to get across. Instead, Flagg describes a relationship between Idgie and Ruth that is more of a homosocial one. As women like to say to men, just because you are a couple, does not mean you must have sex. “Idgie treats Ruth to a picnic at a secret location; during this lunch Idgie retrieves a honeycomb from a beehive in what has been widely understood in queer readings as the first love scene” (Berglund 131). The first episode in the novel, which shows a lesbian relationship between Idgie and Ruth, is the “Bee Charmer” scene. The way that they speak and act towards each other throughout that scene is very characteristic of the way many lovers, both heterosexual and homosexual, speak and act towards each other.
Idgie goes as far as to say that she would kill for Ruth and that she would die for Ruth, all because she loves her. “Idgie smiled back at her and looked up into the clear blue sky that reflected in her eyes, and she was happy as anybody who is in love in the summertime can be.” (FGT 87) Another sign of Idgie and Ruth’s homosexual relationship is the episode where Idgie goes crazy when Ruth has to leave to get married after the summer they spent together. “’Why are you gonna marry that man?’ ‘I told you why.’ ‘WHY?’ ‘Because I want to, that’s why.’ ‘You don’t love him.’ ‘Yes I do.’ ‘Oh no you don’t. You love me…you know you do.You know you do!’”(FGT 90) At this point in the story, everybody thinks Idgie is just a sixteen year-old girl with a crush, but Idgie knows that Ruth is her love, and Ruth knows that Idgie is her love. “They just stood there, looking at each other, and in that moment Ruth wished more than anything in the world that she could grab her and hold her as tight as she could; but if she had, she knew she would never let go.” (FGT 91). Idgie had already lost the first love in life, her brother Buddy Threadgoode, and she was not about ready to lose Ruth. One can understand being upset at having a friend leave, but to get as upset as Idgie gets, shows that they are much more than friends.
Idgie loves Ruth more than anything in the world. So much in fact, that she travels all the way to Georgia once a month just to see her; not talk to her, just to see if she is all right. Then, one day, she finally gets the courage to talk to Ruth and she lets Ruth know how she feels. “[Idgie] said, ‘Look, I don’t want you to bother you. I know you are probably very happy and all…I mean, I’m sure you are, but I just wanted you to know that I don’t hate you and never did. I still want you to come back and I’m not a kid anymore, so I’m not gonna change. I still love you and I always will and I still don’t care what anybody thinks-‘” (FGT 178) It is this undying love for each other that makes their relationship much more than just a friendship. During those four years that they were apart, all Ruth does is pray that she could have Idgie back. “But sometimes, in the middle of a crowd or alone at night, she never knew when it was going to happen, Idgie would suddenly come to mind, and she would want to see her so bad that the pain of longing for her sometimes took her breath away.” (FGT 194).
Idgie loves Ruth more than anything in the world, and Ruth feels the same way about Idgie. However, the most overwhelming proof of Idgie and Ruth’s homosexual relationship came when Ruth finally makes it back from Georgia. It happens when Ruth is talking to Momma and Poppa Threadgoode about staying in Whistle Stop for good. They way the whole scene plays out is much the same way as when a man asks for a woman’s hand in marriage. It became most apparent when Momma Threadgoode tells Ruth, “Poppa and I just want you to know that we think of you as one of the family now, and we couldn’t be happier for our little girl to have such a sweet companion as you.” (FGT 199). That was when Idgie and Ruth officially becomes a couple, not just friends anymore. They would be together until Ruth dies and they would suffer through the same struggles as any other couple, but they are not like every other couple. Most people would think that a lesbian couple back in the 1920’s and 30’s would have been and was unheard of.
So, the question begs to be asked, how could Whistle Stop, a small town in Alabama, be so accepting of something so different than the norm; a lesbian couple? It could be that they were not like any other towns back in those days. After all, they were much more accepting of and caring towards the blacks in the town; which was also unheard of in that time. However, it is not that, it is the fact that everyone in the community considers Idgie a man. They know she is a woman, but they think of her as “one of the guys”. She plays cards like a man, drinks like a man, and even dresses like a man. When she goes to Georgia and threatens Frank Bennett in the barbershop, even the barber thinks that Idgie is a guy, “He looked Frank in the mirror and said, ‘That boy must be crazy.’” (FGT 189). Throughout the story, there are scenes where it is obvious the community thinks of Idgie as “one of the guys”. One scene where this idea is apparent is when they hold the “Benefit for New Balls” in Whistle Stop. “The Dill Pickle Club will hold a womanless wedding to benefit the high school so they can get a new set of balls…our own Sheriff Grady Kilgore as the lovely bride and Idgie as the groom.” (FGT 278). All of the actors in the show are men, except of course Idgie, and they still call it a womanless wedding. It shows that they truly felt Idgie was a guy just like the rest of them.
Idgie and Ruth are homosexuals in a time when homosexuality is shunned and discriminated against. It is never really directly stated that they are lesbians, but it is definitely implied. It could not have been directly stated that they are in fact lesbians, because that would have changed the focus of the entire book. Lesbianism is not a subject that many people wish to speak about or think about on a daily basis. However, everyone in Whistle Stop accepts and appreciates them. This is because they feel as though Idgie is a man. She acts like a guy and they think of her as “one of the guys”. It is why they do not see Idgie and Ruth’s relationship as something that is so wrong. It is like Ruth is the woman and Idgie is the man in the relationship. Lesbianism is just one of the many issues that this book addresses and it is definitely the one aspect that makes the book so interesting and entertaining.