How is Ninny Threadgoode Related to Idgie: The Mystery of Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes is a 1991 film based on the novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. The film tells the story of Evelyn Couch, a middle-aged woman who befriends Ninny Threadgoode, an elderly woman living in a nursing home. Ninny regales Evelyn with stories of her past, especially about her sister-in-law Idgie Threadgoode and her friend Ruth Jamison, who ran a cafe in Whistle Stop, Alabama in the 1920s and 1930s.

One of the most intriguing questions that the film raises is whether Ninny and Idgie are the same person. The film hints at this possibility, but never confirms it explicitly. The book, however, makes it clear that they are two separate characters. So, how is Ninny related to Idgie, and why do some viewers think that they are one and the same?

Ninny’s Family Connection to Idgie

According to the book, Ninny Threadgoode is the widow of Cleo Threadgoode, who was Idgie’s older brother. Cleo died in a car accident in 1949, leaving Ninny alone. She moved to Birmingham and later to the nursing home where she met Evelyn.

Ninny was close to Idgie and Ruth, and often visited them at the cafe. She also knew all the other residents of Whistle Stop, such as Sipsey, Big George, Smokey Lonesome, and Frank Bennett. She witnessed many of the events that she narrates to Evelyn, such as Ruth’s abusive marriage to Frank, Idgie’s rescue of Ruth, Frank’s murder and trial, and Ruth’s death from cancer.

Ninny also had a son named Albert, who was born in 1925. He married a woman named Nell and had two children, Jack and Susan. Albert died in 1971 from a heart attack.

The Film’s Ambiguity about Ninny’s Identity

The film adaptation of Fried Green Tomatoes makes some changes from the book that create ambiguity about Ninny’s identity. For example:

  • The film never mentions Ninny’s husband Cleo or her son Albert. It also does not show any scenes of Ninny visiting Whistle Stop or interacting with Idgie and Ruth.
  • The film implies that Ninny is telling Evelyn stories that she heard from Idgie, rather than stories that she experienced herself. For instance, when Evelyn asks how Ninny knows so much about Ruth and Idgie, Ninny says that Idgie told her everything.
  • The film uses cross-cutting techniques to suggest a connection between Ninny and Idgie. For example, when Ninny says that she always had a crush on Buddy Threadgoode, Idgie’s brother who died in a train accident, the film cuts to a scene of young Idgie running after Buddy’s train. When Ninny says that she had a baby boy in 1925, the film cuts to a scene of Ruth giving birth to her son Buddy Jr.
  • The film shows Ninny having a photo of Ruth on her nightstand, but not one of Idgie. It also shows Ninny leaving a jar of honey and a note signed by Idgie on Ruth’s grave.
  • The film ends with Evelyn taking Ninny out of the nursing home and driving away with her. As they leave, they see a bee flying around their car window. The bee is a symbol of Idgie, who was nicknamed “Bee Charmer” by Ruth.

These clues lead some viewers to speculate that Ninny is actually Idgie in disguise, or that she has adopted Idgie’s identity after her death. Some possible explanations for this theory are:

  • Idgie changed her name to Ninny and moved to Birmingham after Ruth died. She pretended to be Cleo’s widow and made up stories about her past to cope with her grief.
  • Idgie suffered from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and forgot her own identity. She confused herself with Ninny, who was her sister-in-law and friend.
  • Idgie wanted to protect herself from being arrested for Frank Bennett’s murder. She assumed Ninny’s identity and hid in the nursing home.
  • Idgie wanted to have some fun and tell stories to Evelyn. She pretended to be Ninny and embellished her tales with fictional details.

The Book’s Clarity about Ninny’s Identity

The book version of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe does not leave any room for doubt about Ninny’s identity. It clearly states that Ninny is Cleo’s widow and Albert’s mother, and that she is not Idgie.

The book also shows scenes of Ninny visiting Whistle Stop and interacting with Idgie and Ruth. It also reveals that Idgie is still alive at the end of the book, living in Valdosta, Georgia with her friend Mrs. Otis.

The book also explains some of the discrepancies that the film creates. For example:

  • Ninny says that she had a crush on Buddy because she was jealous of Idgie’s closeness to him. She also says that she had a baby boy in 1925 because she wanted to name him after Buddy, who died in 1924.
  • Ninny has a photo of Ruth on her nightstand because Ruth was her best friend and she misses her. She also has a photo of Idgie, but she keeps it in her purse because she does not want anyone to see it and ask questions.
  • Ninny leaves a jar of honey and a note signed by Idgie on Ruth’s grave because Idgie asked her to do so. Idgie sends Ninny jars of honey every year on Ruth’s birthday, and Ninny puts them on Ruth’s grave as a tribute.
  • Evelyn takes Ninny out of the nursing home and drives her to the cemetery, where they see Idgie waiting for them. Idgie and Ninny hug and cry, and Idgie introduces herself to Evelyn. They then go to a nearby cafe and have fried green tomatoes.


The question of how Ninny Threadgoode is related to Idgie is one that has puzzled many fans of Fried Green Tomatoes. The film adaptation of the novel creates ambiguity about Ninny’s identity, while the book clarifies that they are two separate characters. Ninny is Idgie’s sister-in-law and friend, who tells Evelyn stories about their past in Whistle Stop. Idgie is the protagonist of those stories, who runs a cafe with Ruth and lives a colorful life. Whether one prefers the film’s mystery or the book’s clarity, both versions of Fried Green Tomatoes offer a captivating tale of friendship, love, and courage.

Doms Desk

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