Brokeback Mountain

by Annie Proulx

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In "Brokeback Mountain," could Jack and Ennis have lived together in rural Wyoming as Jack desired?

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In "Brokeback Mountain," it doesn't seem possible that Jack and Ennis could have lived together in rural Wyoming the way Jack wanted. He dreamed of the two of them owning a ranch. As Ennis realized, Wyoming at that time was too homophobic to tolerate such an arrangement. Ennis feared they would be killed, and this fear is not a groundless worry given how Jack eventually died.

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Although they are both married, Jack still dreams when he and Ennis meet of the two of them owning a ranch together. According to Jack's plan, Ennis would leave his wife and children. Jack assumes his wife Lureen's father would help him to leave his daughter. Jack describes his plan as follows:

Listen. I’m thinkin, tell you what, if you and me had a little ranch together, little cow and calf operation, your horses, it’d be some sweet life. ... I got it figured, got this plan, Ennis, how we can do it, you and me. Lureen’s old man, you bet he’d give me a bunch if I’d get lost. Already more or less said it....

Ennis, the more realistic of the two, interrupts him and says,

Whoa, whoa, whoa. It ain’t goin a be that way. We can’t. I’m stuck with what I got, caught in my own loop. Can’t get out of it.

Ennis goes on to say that he has seen other gay men try to make a life for themselves out west, only to end up dead. He doesn't want the two of them to get killed for being gay. He can't see any other way than for both of them to go on as they have.

Later, Jack says to Ennis in a moment of deep regret and pain,

Tell you what, we could a had a good life together, a fuckin real good life. You wouldn’t do it, Ennis, so what we got now is Brokeback Mountain. Everthing built on that. It’s all we got, boy, fuckin all, so I hope you know that if you don’t never know the rest.

But when Jack ends up dead, although what happened is ambiguous, Ennis believes he was murdered. He believes Jack was careless and let people see he was gay. Ennis thinks he was beaten to death with a tire iron.

Looking at the society the two men lived in, with its emphasis on heterosexual masculinity and its homophobia, I would agree with Ennis that the two could not have had the life together Jack dreamed of in that time and place. What gives the story its poignant quality is the impossibility of the two men fully sharing a life together.

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Jack is a romantic and an idealist in the story, yearning to follow his heart regardless of the social consequences. From the beginning, he is more attuned to his emotions and initiates sexual contact on Brokeback Mountain.This relates not only to his society, but the two men's marital relationships with women. "Brokeback Mountain" takes place in the early 1960s, when homophobia was the social norm. More significantly, this was approximately fifty years before gay marriage became legalized in the state.

When Jack and Ennis reunite after Brokeback, Jack suggests starting a ranch together. At this point, they are both married with children. Individuals were not legally permitted to divorce on the grounds of homosexuality, and sodomy was considered a criminal offense. In other words, they would have had to abandon their families in order to be together. In the best case, they would have been ostracized in society, which would certainly have impacted their business. In the worst case, both men would have been persecuted.

When reading Annie Proulx's short story in the present day, readers are aware of the tragic timing of the love affair between Jack and Ennis. Divorce laws are much more flexible today, and sodomy was decriminalized in Wyoming in the subsequent decade. Had the story taken place in our current society, Jack's dream of running a ranch with Ennis could have worked within the boundaries of the law.

Proulx wrote "Brokeback Mountain" in 1997, establishing a story taking place over thirty years before. Progress had undoubtedly been accomplished between those time periods—think of the difference between conceptions and laws surrounding homosexuality in the 1990s compared to today. The Supreme Court only legalized gay marriage in all fifty states in 2015, yet stigma and prejudice surrounding homosexuality endures. Though Jack and Ennis could have legally operated a ranch together in modern times, they would still have faced struggles as a gay couple.

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