Study Guide

Brokeback Mountain Sexuality and Sexual Identity

By Annie Proulx

Sexuality and Sexual Identity

He might have to stay with his married daughter until he picks up another job, yet he is suffused with a sense of pleasure because Jack Twist was in his dream. (1)

Proulx gets right to the point here, doesn't she? It's obvious from the beginning that Ennis and Jack have a thing going on, what with the mention of pleasure and dreams; now it's just a question of filling in the details as the story goes on.

"Jesus Christ, quit hammerin and get over here. Bedroll's big enough," said Jack in an irritable sleep-clogged voice. It was big enough, warm enough, and in a little while they deepened their intimacy considerably. (28)

There's a casualness to the invitation that suggests it's really no big deal here. We're out in the wilderness, it's cold, sure let's huddle together for warmth. But it also suggests that they're both pretty comfortable with each other at this point. But that doesn't lessen the shock when "comfortable" turns to "intimate."

Ennis ran full-throttle on all roads whether fence mending or money spending, and he wanted none of it when Jack seized his left hand and brought it to his erect cock. (28)

There are early signs of the characters' relative reaction to their sexuality here: Ennis is fighting, Jack is plowing forward. That's pretty much the way it goes for the entire story, as Ennis always tries to keep it quiet and Jack seethes under the restraint. You might argue that Jack's more comfortable with his sexuality than Ennis is, or you might argue that Ennis is just more realistic. Either way, it's clear that they're not quite on the same page.

They seized each other by the shoulders, hugged mightily, squeezing the breath out of each other, saying, son of a b****, son of a b****, then, and easily as the right key turns the lock tumblers, their mouths came together. (50)

Clearly, their bodies know something that their minds don't, as the intensity of their physical chemistry just overwhelms them. But it's also clear here that these two are a match made in heaven, what with that simile suggesting they fit together like a lock and a key.

"We got to talk about this. Swear to god I didn't know we was goin a get into this again—yeah, I did. Why I'm here. I f***in knew it. Redlined all the way, couldn't get here fast enough." (59)

At least this meeting lets them realize their feelings for each other haven't diminished. After all, if you redline all the way to a romantic rendezvous, we'd say your feelings are pretty clear. But still, check out Jack's attempt at denial here.

"I like doin it with women, yeah, but Jesus H., ain't nothin like this. I never had no thoughts a doin it with another guy except I sure wrang it out a hunderd times thinkin about you." (66)

If we're to believe Ennis here, he's not gay… except for when it comes to Jack. That may very well be an accurate way to describe himself. But it also may very well be a denial-instinct that society has inflicted upon him.

"[…] you guys wasn't gettin paid to leave the dogs baby-sit the sheep while you stemmed the rose." (71)

Interesting turn of a phrase from Joe, right? He's suggestive without being explicit. He also doesn't seem surprised, so we might guess that Joe has seen this kind of thing before from other people.

"There was these two old guys ranched together down home, Earl and Rich—Dad would pass a remark when he seen them. They was a joke even though they was pretty tough old birds." (74)

The story of Earl and Rich tells Jack and Ennis that their love isn't entirely unprecedented. While that might seem like heartening knowledge that would give them hope that their relationship can work, the way society treated Earl and Rich also serves as a warning.

No doubt about it, she was polite but the little voice was cold as snow. (133)

Lureen knows, like a lot of people. And since she's never met Ennis, it implies that Jack's been stemming the rose with more than just Ennis over the years. That's a clever way of giving us that fact without coming right out and saying it, and that suggestive, unclear language is a hallmark of Jack and Ennis's relationship, which can never be explicit and out in the open.

And he would wake sometimes in grief, sometimes with the old sense of joy and release; the pillow sometimes wet, sometimes the sheets. (158)

The parallel structure of the second half of this sentence reminds us that their sexual relationship is, at the end of the day, also a deep indicator of their love for each other. This isn't just some affair. This is true, messy, and doomed love.