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Brokeback Mountain

Annie Proulx




The Overwhelming Natural Forces of Desire and Love

Just as nature governs the ranch and mountain lifestyle, the natural force of desire directs every significant action taken by Ennis and Jack in “Brokeback Mountain,” even when those actions are against their better judgment and against acceptable social dictums. The passion between the two men is so strong that they cannot explain it rationally or logically, and the way it ebbs and flows is not predictable or reasonable. Instead, it is irresistible and overwhelming—a point that Ennis makes emphatically when he tells Jack that “There’s no reins on this one. It scares the piss out a me.” “Brokeback Mountain” is a love story, and like many love stories, its end is tragic, not least because the natural force of the men’s desire prevents them from ever fully fitting into the lives they were forced to pursue apart from each other.

The idea of two male ranch hands falling in love in conservative 1960s Wyoming epitomizes the suggestion that love, a natural force, persists against all odds. Indeed, Jack and Ennis have everything to lose because of their relationship. Society’s powerful indictment of male love is woven deeply into Ennis’s psyche; he tells Jack the story of how a gay rancher in his hometown was murdered, voicing his own apprehensions that the same thing could happen to them. The figure of Joe Aguirre, peering through his binoculars at the two men making love, is a stand-in for all those passing judgment on them. Even Alma has only disgust for Ennis’s furtive sexual behavior: she calls his lover “Jack Nasty” and makes it plain that she finds the notion of two men in love reprehensible. But despite these opposing forces and the lives they build with their respective wives and families, Jack and Ennis are helpless in the clutch of their feelings for each other.

The Endless Shifting of the World

“Brokeback Mountain” begins with movement and motion in Ennis’s home, and the idea of the world being constantly in flux permeates the entire story. In the first few lines, Proulx describes the “wind rocking the trailer” and the hanging shirts that “shudder slightly in the draft.” Despite the seeming permanence of Ennis’s situation, despite the feeling of endlessness conveyed by the Wyoming plains, the winds of change are always blowing. Proulx has said she sees the world “in terms of shifting circumstances,” and wind, for Proulx, suggests the meeting of opposing forces, of past, present, and future. Movement occurs when a kinetic force meets a static object, pushing it or acting on it in some way. In this sense, the shuddering shirts of the story’s first line suggest a tension between the conservative, homophobic line that Jack has dared to cross (and been punished for crossing) and a time and place in which greater tolerance exists.

The notion of the world as constantly in flux is borne out more obviously in the span of years covered in the story. Along the way, the narrator comments on changes in the main characters’ physical appearance—a thickening paunch, a patch of graying hair, the development of a benign growth over one of Ennis’s eyes. The result is a sort of time-lapse view of the relationship between Jack and Ennis, one in which a single constant—their devotion to one another—is set against a backdrop of inevitable change.

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