Annie Proulx Essay - Critical Essays

E. Annie Proulx Short Fiction Analysis

Although E. Annie Proulx’s first collection, Heart Songs, and Other Stories, was relatively conventional in structure and language, her interest in what one of her characters calls the “rural downtrodden” is much in evidence here. The stories, featuring such quaintly named characters as Albro, Eno, and Snipe, take place in rural Vermont and New Hampshire. Without condescension, Proulx describes trailer-dwelling men and women who drink, smoke, feud, and fornicate without much introspection or analysis.

Close Range: Wyoming Stories

In Close Range: Wyoming Stories, Proulx shifts her milieu to the rural west, where her characters are similarly ragged and rugged, but where, either because of her increased confidence as a writer or because she was inspired by the landscape and the fiercely independent populace, her characters are more compellingly caught in a world that is grittily real and magically mythical at once. Claiming that her stories gainsay the romantic myth of the West, Proulx admires the independence and self-reliance she has found there, noting that the people “fix things and get along without them if they can’t be fixed. They don’t whine.”

Place is as important as the people who populate it in Close Range, for the Wyoming landscape is harsh yet beautiful, real yet magical, deadly yet sustaining. In such a world, social props are worthless and folks are thrown back on their most basic instincts, whether they be sexual, survival, or sacred. In such a world, as one character says in “Brokeback Mountain,” “It’s easier than you think to yield up to the dark impulse.” E. Annie Proulx’s Wyoming is a heart of darkness both in place and personality.

“Brokeback Mountain”

The most remarkable thing about “Brokeback Mountain” is that although it is about a sexual relationship between two men, it cannot be categorized as a homosexual story; it is rather a tragic love story that simply happens to involve two males. The fact that the men are Wyoming cowboys rather than San Francisco urbanites makes Proulx’s success in creating such a convincing and emotionally affecting story all the more wonderful.

Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar are “high-school drop-out country boys with no prospects” who, while working alone at a sheep-herding operation on Brokeback Mountain, abruptly and silently engage in a sexual encounter, after which both immediately insist, “I’m not no queer.” Although the two get married to women and do not see each other for four years, when they meet again, they grab each other and hug in a gruff masculine way, and then, “as easily as the right key turns the lock tumblers, their mouths came together.”

Neither has sex with other men, and both know the danger of their relationship. Twenty years pass, and their infrequent encounters are a combination of sexual passion and personal concern. The story comes to a climax when Jack, who unsuccessfully tries to convince Ennis they can make a life together, is mysteriously killed on the roadside. Although officially it was an accident, Ennis sorrowfully suspects that Jack has been murdered after approaching another man....

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