Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The technical challenge Proulx faces in “Brokeback Mountain” is how to write a love story involving two men without falling into the clichés and conventions of a homosexual story. She achieves this by creating a fablelike style for the story, with little or no attention paid to its realistic social context. Instead, the story focuses on the passionate love affair between Jack and Ennis against a stark landscape. Proulx focuses almost entirely on the encounters between the two men as mysterious passionate couplings and tender concerned sharing. The other characters in the story—the wives of both men and the parents of Jack—serve only minor supplemental roles. Proulx does not create an explicit social opposition to the relationship, complete with specific enemies whom Jack and Ennis must fear. All she need do is suggest, by the fears of the two men, that they live in a homophobic society, in which there is a constant danger of discovery and disaster.

Another challenge Proulx faces in this story is how to handle the descriptions of the sexuality between the two men, for even though sexual desire is not the sole source of their relationship, it is a passionate and powerful force for them that they do not understand. Their first encounter Proulx treats as a natural event, describing the act explicitly and straightforwardly. By developing the relationship of the two men over a period of some twenty years, She also suggests that it is not merely the sexuality that holds them together but something more emotional and lasting. She achieves this by focusing not only on the sexuality but also on the domestic relationship between the two men, their mutual concern for each other.

By refusing to make judgments and by treating the relationship of the two men with dignity and respect, Proulx succeeds in making the reader believe in this love affair between two men without classifying it narrowly as a homosexual story.