Racism is one of the prevalent themes in the novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. The author Fannie Flagg portrays this theme in a few different ways. One ways she shows racism is through Big George and Onzell’s twin sons Artis and Jasper. Jasper has a much lighter skin tone than that of Artis. This seemingly minor difference leads them down completely separate paths in life. The lives of Artis and Jasper are greatly affected by their skin tone.
From the time the two boys are born, there is already tension between them. They are first described in this way: “The oldest son, whom she named Jasper, was the color of a creamy cup of coffee, and the other one, named Artis, was black as coal (75).” Already Jasper, the lighter skinned boy, is compared to a “creamy cup of coffee,” which is something typically thought of to be pleasant and warming. Artis, on the other hand, is compared to coal, which is something that is dirty and found in dark dreary places. These comparisons are almost symbolic of their lives. Jasper makes a good living working on a high-end train. He lives a very respectable life. Artis is poor and spends his life living in destitute cities. He also constantly chases women around. His life is a lot lower in merit than Jasper’s life. The way they end up in these situations is directly affected by their skin colors.
Early in their lives, the affect of their skin colors is apparent. When Ms. Threadgoode describes the boys to Evelyn, she says, “Jasper went on to become the president of the Brotherhood of the Sleeping-Car Porter’s Union. He and his brother Artis moved to Birmingham when they were young. . .but Artis wound up in jail two or three times (103).” This shows that Jasper was successful, but does say why he was successful. It also shows that Artis was considered a bad person because he went to jail a few times, but it doesn’t say why he went to jail. They are both brothers raised by the same parents. It doesn’t seem logical that one would turn out good and the other would turn out bad. The only way they are different is their skin color. Jasper has lighter skin color, and he is able to hold a steady job and become president of his union. Artis has darker skin color, and he ends up in jail and wandering the streets. Racism is the only thing that could separate the two brothers and lead them to completely different lives.
Artis wants to be accepted, but his skin color won’t allow him to be. When Artis is in Chicago, he realizes how bad his situation is. “As Artis stood there today in the doorway, he was hurting so bad, he thought he would die. He missed Birmingham and he wanted to go back (226).” Unfortunately, Artis cannot go back. He knows he can never fit in with the racist society living there. The only place he can live without those pressures is in desolate shagtowns. He doesn’t want to be in this situation, but he has no way out. A dark African American is often prejudged and has a harder time in life. When Artis tries to save his friend’s dog, he cuts the rope tying the dog to the truck and sets him free. The dogcatchers claim that Artis pulled a knife on them, and Artis ends up spending six months in prison. This is just one instance that shows how his skin color is detrimental to his being, while Jaspers light tone allows him to marry a wealthy respected woman, hold a good job, and live amongst white people.
All of these examples show how Artis’s dark skin led him to a hard, tough life, while Jasper’s light skin showed him a life his brother could never dream of. Racism is abundant in the book, and this one piece portrays that problem well. Their skin color directly represents the kind of life they will live. Though they are twin brothers, their two lives are like night and day. The lives of Artis and Jasper are shaped by their skin color and tone.