Study Guide

Brokeback Mountain Repression

By Annie Proulx

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Jack said his father had been a pretty well-known bullrider years back but kept his secrets to himself, never gave Jack a word of advice, never came once to see Jack ride, though he had put him on the woolies when he was a little kid. (23)

Ah, daddy issues. They usually explain everything. And if not everything, at least something. In this case, Jack's dad taught him the magic of shame and then basically dumped him on the side of the road to fend for himself. That may explain why Jack's kind of eager for attention, recklessly so as some points.

They went at it in silence except for a few sharp intakes of breath and Jack's choked 'gun's goin' off,' then out, down, and asleep. (28)

Yeah, this might have been a moment for these two to, you know, talk about their feelings? But nope, they just keep mum and go to sleep. We can't help but wonder if things might have turned out a bit differently if they hadn't waited 20 years to have The Talk.

They never talked about the sex, let it happen, at first only in the tent at night, then in the full daylight with the hot sun striking down, and at evening in the fire glow, quick, rough, laughing and snorting, no lack of noises, but saying not a goddamn word except once Ennis said, "I'm not no queer," and Jack jumped in with "Me neither. A one-shot thing. Nobody's business but ours." (30)

They swear up and down to each other that they're not gay, even after they've had sex with each other. Sure, they might not identify as such in 1963 Wyoming, but all evidence would seem to point to the contrary. We think their denial and repression of their sexual identities stems from fear.

She had seen what she had seen. Behind her in the room lightning lit the window like a white sheet waving and the baby cried. (50)

It's the silence here that gets the repression across. here Nobody's saying anything; they're just taking in the lover's embrace. Proulx then adds a crying baby—the most unsettling and off-putting sound we'll ever hear by design—to emphasize how not-okay the silence is.

"Ennis—" said Alma in her misery voice, but that didn't slow him down on the stairs and he called back, "Alma, you want smokes there's some in the pocket a my blue shirt in the bedroom." (57)

These two sure know how not to have a conversation. Ennis knows exactly what happened (that Alma saw), but he's going to pretend he doesn't and hope that it will go away.

"But if you can't fix it you got a stand it," he said. (78)

This is Ennis's life creed, and while it sounds poetic, it comes with a cost. He stands it, sure, but he also ends up cutting himself off from everyone he cares about.

A slow corrosion worked between Ennis and Alma, no real trouble, just widening water. (81)

The effects of repression are subtle here. There's not a lot of fights or screaming (well, okay, there's one, but it hasn't happened yet). It's just gradually eating away at them. And what do you know? They aren't talking about it.

"Count the damn few times we been together in twenty years. Measure the f***in short leash you keep me on, then ask me about Mexico and then tell me you'll kill me for needin it and not hardly never gettin it." (117)

This is Jack's moment of truth, where he tells us how much he's had to button it in and how much it's killing him. We don't hear anything similar from Ennis; does that mean that Ennis isn't feeling it as acutely?

Like vast clouds of steam from thermal springs in winter the years of things unsaid and now unsayable—admissions, declarations, shames, guilts, fears—rose around them. (118)

Check out this imagery. All of that pent-up emotion suddenly released is described as a geological force of nature. Notice, too, that Proulx is using a piece of Wyoming landscape—thermal springs—to make the comparison. Here, her tendency to describe the emotional landscape through the imagery of the physical one is particularly potent since it's touching on the issue of The Great Unsaid.

Jack's mother, stout and careful in her movements as though recovering from an operation, said, "Want some coffee, don't you? Piece a cherry cake?" (135)

Can you say "enabler?" Jack's Mom seems to want everything to be clean and happy, even though the conversation is tenser than your average ceasefire negotiation. Repression appears to run in the family.

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