The Individual in Context
In “Brokeback Mountain,” time and place are not incidental; rather, they are the foundations on which character is built and defined. In introducing the two main characters, Proulx does not separate them from their geographic and socioeconomic origins: “They were raised on small, poor ranches in opposite corners of the state, Jack Twist in Lightning Flat up on the Montana border, Ennis del Mar from around Sage, near the Utah line . . . .” Temporal setting, too, is critical. In the next paragraph, we learn that it is 1963 when Jack and Ennis first meet. No character, Proulx seems to say, can be understood out of his or her unique context—a notion affirmed by a glance at the author’s autobiography, posted on her official website, which begins with a lengthy history of her maternal and paternal ancestors and the family’s ancestral land. Indeed, the main tension of “Brokeback Mountain” derives from the pull of external, contextual forces on the two main characters, who are trapped in their circumstances like flies in a spider web. In another time, in another place, perhaps, Jack and Ennis could be happy together—but not in 1963 Wyoming.