Significant memories tend to stand out in our minds, the way a mountain towers over a level plain. “Brokeback Mountain” is an allegory for the way a particular moment or moments in time can haunt us, turn our life in a particular direction, and forge a future we may never have anticipated. Jack and Ennis’s first sexual encounter in the summer of 1963 is the pinnacle of their relationship: a single, untarnished, unpremeditated act with no painful history and no difficult future to chart or navigate. Many years afterward, Jack thinks back to embracing Ennis at that time and place and calls it, in his mind, “the single moment of artless, charmed happiness in their separate and difficult lives . . . they’d never got much farther than that.” Proulx plants this flashback in the last third of the story, demonstrating structurally how a memory can crop up so long after the fact, disrupting the normal experience of time. In addition to being a temporal disruption, the memory of Brokeback is also a physical locus of pleasure and pain. In a fit of frustration, Jack yells at Ennis that all they have now, two middle-aged men with children, is Brokeback Mountain. Memory is a place from which it is difficult, if not impossible, to escape.
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