The thesis of this essay is that if one of the main characters (Ennis del Mar) in Annie Proulx’s short story Brokeback Mountain had the courage to defy cultural norms then his love story with the other character (Jack Twist) in the story would not have ended tragically.
Courage and Cowardice in Brokeback Mountain
If romantic gay relationships in cosmopolitan cities around the world in this day and age have not yet been fully accepted by society that claims to be liberal, then there is no reason for us to believe that a romantic gay relationship in a conservative society set in the countryside in the 60’s as depicted in Annie Proulx’s short story would be any different. If any it would only discourage gay couples even more to hide and live lives that can only be considered as fake, unhappy, and wasted. Such is the destiny of Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, the main characters in Brokeback Mountain.
They met in a job that required them to herd sheep on the mountains in the summer of 1963. There they spent days and nights on those cold mountains herding and guarding sheep. It is here where their story develops. Conversations between them started to get longer and longer and at one point, one of them forgot about the job of staying with the sheep for that night. Away from the prying eyes of the world, they discover each other’s warmth in those cold nights up in the mountain. Ennis del Mar was engaged to an Alma Beers back home so it was clear that what has transpired between him and Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain shall remain there. Parting ways though, one could sense that what happened to them was more than just sex and they would regret letting go of each other after that summer (Proulx 7).
They would not see each other until four years later when Jack Twist left Ennis del Mar a telegram that said he would visit. By this time, Ennis is married with two daughters while Jack is married with a son (Proulx 8). Their first meeting after four years can only be described as passionate and as a reader, you could feel the longing they had for each other. Proulx did a fine job with her choice of words as she described her main characters’ first meeting in four years:
They seized each other by the shoulders, hugged mightily, squeezing the breath out of each other, saying son of a bitch, son of a bitch; then, and as easily as the right key turns the lock tumblers, their mouths came together, and hard, Jack’s big teeth bringing blood, his hat falling to the floor, stubble rasping, wet saliva welling, and the door opening and Alma looking out for a few seconds at Ennis’s straining shoulders and shutting the door again and still they clinched, pressing chest and groin and thigh and leg together, treading on each other’s toes until they pulled apart to breathe (7)
Her choice of words showed the deep connection our main characters had that it overcame years of not seeing each other. Alas, Alma saw all these with her own eyes and this would have to be the point where her marriage with Ennis would start to self-destruct. Meanwhile, Jack Twist started proposing a situation where he and Ennis del Mar would live together on a ranch somewhere. This did not sit well with Ennis who remembered a story about two men who lived together and who were eventually killed in a barbaric scene (Proulx 10). Ennis did not want to end that way. From this point in the story you can sense the difference between our two main characters. Whereas both knew of the dangers they have to face as two men in love in a society that is dominated by traditional beliefs, Jack was willing to forge ahead and try to live a happy life while Ennis was too cowardly to go for it. It is quite ironic because the person who really was not struggling in life was willing to give it up to be genuinely happy. Jack married rich. While Ennis, who constantly tried to make ends meet and who really did not have anything to lose financially, was the one with apprehensions. This idea was floated again at the story’s latter part when Jack Twist’s father told the story of how his son planned bringing Ennis to their ranch and whip it up to shape (Proulx 18). Jack was truly determined to live a life free of pretensions.
So as expected, the story does not end on a happy note. Jack Twist dies in one of those cold blooded scenes and Ennis del Mar weeps and seems to regret. The last few paragraphs in the story proved this. When Ennis went up to Jack’s old room at his parents’ house he uttered to me what I might consider words of regret. “Jack, I swear”, he said (Proulx 20). He was regretting not risking the happy life with Jack. If he had went spent his life with Jack, they may have attracted whisper, taunts, or even death, but at least they would have been together happily even if it would not have lasted. That is certainly better than the life Ennis would have now. His love for the past two decades is gone and he did not even have the time with him. Now, he shall never have one. If only he had the courage to be happy like Jack did, then things might have ended differently. I have always believed that happiness is a choice and Ennis del Mar did not make that choice.
Annie Proulx’ Brokeback Mountain provides an insight into the depressing lives of gay men who have to go through life in hiding. There is no law which states that love is only between a man and a woman. Perhaps if Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist lived in our times, then their relationship would have prospered. From the story, I could only say that their lives were wasted pretending to be something they are not just to conform. It is the saddest thing of all – not to be oneself. Looking at the progress the world has made in terms of acceptance of romantic gay relationships, nothing much has changed. People may be more tolerant but it is absurd to think that majority have fully accepted it. Gay couples have yet to receive the same civil benefits as straight couples in America and the rest of the world. A Jack Twist today would certainly have the courage to fight for it.
Proulx, Annie. “Brokeback Mountain” The New Yorker. (1997)