Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx

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Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar are in their late teens when they are hired to tend sheep above the tree line on Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming during the summer of 1963. When the temperature drops in the evening, Ennis wakes Jack up with his teeth chattering, and Jack invites him into his bedroll. The two men have sex and continue to have sex through the rest of the summer, although they never talk about it except when Ennis declares, “I’m not no queer,” and Jack agrees, saying it is a one-shot deal and not anyone else’s business.

When the two men separate at the end of the summer, Ennis feels so bad that he stops on the side of the road and vomits. In December, Ennis marries Alma Beers, to whom he has been engaged; she is pregnant by mid-January.

Four years later, Ennis gets a letter from Jack saying he is coming through and wants to buy Ennis a beer. When they meet, they grab each other and kiss each other on the mouth so hard that they draw blood. By this time, Ennis has two daughters, and Jack is married with a son. Jack and Ennis go off to a motel, and both men are astonished at the power of their feelings for each other. However, both are frightened about these feelings, realizing that they must do something about it, for if they act that way in the wrong place they will be dead.

Jack, who has been a rodeo performer, thinks he and Ennis should get themselves a little ranch and live together, but Ennis says he does not want to be one of those old guys who live together until someone takes a tire iron to them. However, both men realize that their feelings for each other are serious and not merely sexual.

Ennis goes on a fishing trip with Jack once or twice a year, and Ennis and Alma begin to grow apart, for she has seen the two men embrace. She divorces him, and Ennis goes back to ranch work. The two men continue to see each other, but they reach a point at which Ennis cannot see Jack as much as Jack would like. Jack tells Ennis they could have had a good life together, but all they really have is the memory of Brokeback Mountain. Jack tells Ennis he does not know how to quit him.

Several months later, Ennis sends a postcard to Jack, which is returned, stamped “Deceased.” He calls Jack’s wife, Laureen, who tells him it was an accident, that when Jack was pumping up a flat tire, it blew out and knocked the tire rim into his face, causing him to bleed to death. Ennis thinks to himself that somebody got him with a tire iron after all. Laureen tells him that Jack wanted his ashes scattered on Brokeback Mountain, and Ennis goes to Jack’s parents’ house and offers to fulfill that wish. However, Jack’s father refuses, saying he is going to bury the ashes in the family plot. The story ends with Ennis dreaming about Jack as he first saw him as a young man on Brokeback Mountain.

Summary

(Short Stories for Students)

Part 1

"Brokeback Mountain" begins in the present with Ennis Del Mar waking up in his trailer parked on the Wyoming ranch where he has been working. He thinks about finding a new job since the owner is ready to sell the ranch and acknowledges that he may have to live with his daughter for a while. This morning, though, he feels happy because he dreamed of Jack Twist the night before and of their time together on Brokeback Mountain.

At this point, the narrative shifts to 1983, when he and Jack were both teenagers during Ennis's first summer on the mountain where they worked as sheep herders. Day after day, Ennis tends the camp while Jack herds the sheep and sleeps out on the mountain with them. One day, when Jack complains about his "commutin four hours a day," he accepts Ennis's offer to switch jobs.

Every evening, they share supper by the campfire, "talking horses and rodeo, roughstock events, wrecks and injuries sustained," and other details of their hard lives in the West. Toward the end of the summer when they shift the camp, the distance Ennis has to ride out to the sheep grows longer and he begins to stay later at the camp at night. One...

(The entire section is 1,912 words.)