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Brokeback Mountain looms large in a physical sense, casting its shadow on the plains below, and it rises up in the shared memories of Jack and Ennis and represents an idyllic, although temporary, life. The name “Brokeback” stands in for all that happens between the two men in the summer of 1963 and all they have lost since then. They refer simply to “Brokeback” rather than to specific events or feelings. When Jack says years later that “what we got now is Brokeback Mountain,” he uses the phrase as shorthand for acts, emotions, and thoughts that, because he shares them with Ennis, he needs not articulate more explicitly. Brokeback Mountain also stands in stark contrast to the flatlands of Wyoming in an echo of the duality between Jack and Ennis, man and woman, resistance and acceptance, past and present, and, ultimately, life and death. In the postcard memorial that Ennis constructs to his dead lover, the mountain serves as a tombstone under which the men’s relationship must finally be buried.
If the high peak of Brokeback Mountain, thrusting into the sky, evokes the yearning to rise above and escape one’s life, then the flatland of Wyoming represents all that is dull and desperate. Ennis and Jack are both raised on the plain, but while Jack takes off for Texas to live with his wealthy bride, Ennis is trapped by economic circumstance and responsibility. Proulx uses the noun plain just four times. First, the narrator describes how, from the extraordinary position of being atop the mountain, the plain is where “ordinary affairs” occur. The last three “plains” are used in conjunction with Jack’s death, an event that renders Ennis “ordinary” once more. When Lureen confirms Jack’s death, Ennis feels the “huge sadness of the northern plains” rolling over him. Later, driving to the Twist home, he notes the abandoned ranches scattered over the plain. Finally, leaving Lightning Flat, he notes the cemetery where Jack will be buried, calling it “the grieving plain.”
By the end of the story, Ennis’s pared down existence seems inseparable from the desolate Wyoming flatland, a locus of grief or of the status quo, which in this story is equated with grief. In the last line, another symbolic association becomes clear. The narrator describes the “open space” between what Ennis knows and believes about Jack’s death, a reference to both the expansive, endless plains and the open-ended pain that will stay with Ennis forever.