1. They never talked about the sex, let it happen, at first only in the tent at night, then in the full daylight with the hot sun striking down, and at evening in the fire glow, quick, rough, laughing and snorting, no lack of noises, but saying not a goddamn word except once Ennis said, “I’m not no queer,” and Jack jumped in with “Me neither. A one-shot thing. Nobody’s business but ours.”
After their first sexual encounter on Brokeback Mountain, Ennis and Jack quickly fall into a passionate relationship—one in which, as this passage attests, actions speak much louder than words. The verbal silence that accompanies their sex hints at a relationship so fragile that to rationalize, explain, or defend it would put an end to its pleasure. Indeed, whenever Jack and Ennis give voice to their doubts, hopes, and fears, it results in an argument, not a resolution. There is, literally, no way for the men to talk their way into a good ending to their story. A similar wordlessness accompanies Ennis’s lovemaking with Alma, and it too suggests the desire not to express the harsh reality of the situation at hand. The choice few words that are spoken between Jack and Ennis in this passage are desperate denials of the truth. Jack and Ennis have much more than a one-shot deal; their relationship is decades long. And although they try to tell each other that it isn’t anyone else’s business, the prevailing homophobic viewpoint is very much a third party in their love affair. At this early point in their relationship, alone on the mountain, it is easy and uncomplicated for the men to lie to themselves and each other. Over time, however, this denial becomes harder and harder to pull off—until, finally, it becomes impossible.
2. “Tell you what, we could a had a good life together, a fuckin real good life. You wouldn’t do it, Ennis, so what we got now is Brokeback Mountain. Everthing built on that. It’s all we got, boy, fuckin all, so I hope you know that if you don’t never know the rest.”
In this passage, Jack, looking back on what could have been, lashes out at Ennis for not allowing them to build a life together. In his frustration, Brokeback Mountain—the scene of their first tryst and the one-time emblem of their unblemished love—becomes a darker, more ominous symbol: it stands for all the tantalizing memories and pleasure they can never recapture. Jack’s accusation highlights the differences between him and Ennis. Jack has pressured Ennis to settle down with him and give their relationship a more solid ground, regardless of wife and family, but Ennis has been steadfast in his refusals, citing his obligation to family as well as his desire to avoid scrutiny and punishment. By this point in the story, there is a sense of inevitability about their lack of a future together, and Jack knows it. They have only two options: move forward or keep gazing backward at their summer together on the mountain. Jack’s declaration that “what we got now is Brokeback Mountain” underscores the sad fact that the latter option is their fate.
3. There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can’t fix it you’ve got to stand it.
In this last line of the story, Ennis’s stoicism is made explicit—and so is his self-doubt. Ennis has always been steadfast in his refusal to live with Jack, precisely to avoid the fate that has befallen Jack. But suppressing his nature and acting on his impulses only clandestinely has not made him any happier. By the end of the story, it seems that Ennis has begun to question his decisions. The “open space” between what Ennis knows and what he tells himself is a hazy area of what-ifs: what if he and Jack had made different choices? What if he had not married Alma and had two daughters? What if he had given into Jack’s suggestions and thus prevented him from getting involved with the man in Texas? Would the outcome have been any different? Ever practical, Ennis knows that there is no way to know for sure. And because there is nothing he can do, he can only now live with the outcome of the choices they made.