Annie Proulx

Brokeback Mountain

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Brokeback Mountain Summary

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First published in the October 1997 issue of The New Yorker, American author Annie Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain” received the National Magazine Award for Fiction in 1998. The story follows two young men, Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, who are both hired as seasonal ranch hands and spend the summer herding sheep on Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming. Over the course of the summer, they find they are unexpectedly attracted to one another, forming an intense emotional and sexual attachment. However, when the summer ends the two must part ways. The story examines how their individual lives play out over the next twenty years, through marriage, children, and their careers. The two men continue to reunite through annual camping trips in remote locations, where they can feel free to be themselves and express their love for one another.

Jack and Ennis grew up on poor ranches in opposite corners of Wyoming and have become accustomed to hard work and farm life. They are also both high school dropouts. Ennis lost both of his parents when he was a young boy and was raised by older siblings. Without access to education, Ennis resigned himself to ranch life from an early age, accepting it as his fate. He is engaged to Alma Beers.

The two men first meet when they are hired by foreman Joe Aguirre to tend to his livestock over the course of the summer. Jack has experience doing this kind of work, but it is Ennis’s first time. Ennis heads up the mountain to survey the flock of sheep and protect them from being eaten by coyotes, while Jack stays behind at the camp to prepare meals. When the two get together, they talk, drink whiskey, and commiserate about the job, which forges a bond between them.

One night, after Jack and Ennis have been talking and drinking extensively, Ennis decides to stay at the camp for the night rather than trek back up the mountain. It is especially cold that evening and Jack invites him to join him in his sleeping bag inside his tent. This is the first time they are sexually intimate, and the first time Ennis has ever been with a man. Although they continue to sleep together, they deny their homosexuality.

When Joe Aguirre makes a surprise trip to the campsite, he spies the two men together while looking through his binoculars. At the end of the summer, Jack and Ennis descend from Brokeback Mountain and Aguirre pays them, not mentioning anything about having seen them together. The summer is coming to an end, and they realize that this means they will be parting ways. The two men go their separate ways, feigning indifference, but as Ennis drives away, he is forced to pull over, sick with grief.

When Ennis returns home, he marries his fiancé Alma and they have two girls together. Alma pesters Ennis about getting more permanent housing in town, but Ennis likes their apartment and doesn’t seem ready to fully commit to buying a house. Four years go by and Ennis has been working as a wrangler on a highway crew in order to make ends meet. He receives a postcard from Jack saying that he will be in town, and Ennis sends Jack his address in return.

Jack arrives at Ennis’s home, and Alma spots the two men kissing in front of the apartment. She doesn’t say anything and returns inside. Ennis introduces Jack to his family. It turns out that Jack also has a family of his own, having married Lureen, and they have children together.

Ennis accompanies Jack to his hotel where they spend the night together, reuniting passionately. They reminisce about their time on Brokeback Mountain and discuss their complicated feelings for one another. Ennis tells Jack that he has never been with another man; Jack lies and says the same is true for him. Jack suggests they set up a ranch together, but Ennis, wary of being outed as a gay rancher, says that it is best that they carry on with their separate lives.

The two men continue to see each other as often as they can. Their relationship takes a toll on their individual personal lives, as Alma and Ennis grow further apart until they eventually divorce. She later confronts him about his relationship with Jack, which he vehemently denies.

Jack and Ennis have their own conflicts because of Ennis’s lack of stability. It is hard for him to get away as he lives paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford to miss work. Jack says he wants more from Ennis, and they argue about their future together.

A few months later, Ennis receives a postcard that he had sent Jack. It is returned to him stamped “deceased.” Ennis finds out that Jack had an accident when he was changing a tire and it blew up in his face. He doesn’t believe it was an accident and suspects some kind of foul play. Ennis decides to visit Jack’s family home. He meets Jack’s parents, who know all about Ennis. Jack’s father is disapproving and refuses to give Ennis his son’s ashes, saying they will be buried in the family plot.

Ennis keeps some mementos from Jack’s room at his parent’s house, tacking them on the wall of his trailer so that he can always keep the memory of their relationship alive.