For both Ennis and Jack, Brokeback Mountain represents pure freedom of romantic and sexual expression, totally removed from the limitations of society. Unlike the impoverished ranches on which they grew up, Brokeback Mountain is filled with natural beauty, and provides them with the peace and solitude for their love to grow. The mountain lives on in their memories as an idyllic location and representation of what their love once was, and what it could be once more, if only they could escape judgment and fear.
And yet, even the Mountain was not perfect. The work they did there was hard and underpaid, and Joe Aguirre spied on them from a perch with binoculars. Joe even refuses to hire Jack for work the following summer due to his relationship with Ennis. Thus, even on the mountain they could not escape the judgment of society. The Brokeback Mountain that lives in Ennis and Jack’s memory is one that is a more beautiful place than it was in reality. They must continue to conjure this image of the mountain because their lives depend on the dream that they will one day be reunited in the simple solitude they shared in the summer of 1963.
In the story, Brokeback Mountain is often invoked during the story’s most difficult moments, such as when the two men are arguing over how and when they will next be with each other, or when Jack dies and Lureen mentions he wanted his ashes to be strewn there, or when Ennis, mourning Jack’s death, hangs up a postcard of the mountain next to Jack’s shirts. Brokeback Mountain represents a kind of salvation—a place to which Ennis and Jack can one day return once they have endured the torture of real life.
Brokeback Mountain Quotes in Brokeback Mountain
In 1963, when he met Jack Twist, Ennis was engaged to Alma Beers. Both Jack and Ennis claimed to be saving money for a small spread; in Ennis’s case that meant a tobacco can with two five-dollar bills inside. That spring, hungry for any job, each had signed up with Farm and Ranch Employment—they came together on paper as herder and camp tender for the same sheep operation north of Signal.
“Forest Service got designated campsites on the allotments. Them camps can be a couple a miles from where we pasture the sheep. Bad predator loss, nobody near lookin after em at night. What I want—camp tender in the main camp where the Forest Service says, but the herder”—pointing at Jack with a chop of his hand—“pitch a pup tent on the Q.T. with the sheep, out a sight, and he’s goin a sleep there. Eat supper, breakfast in camp, but sleep with the sheep, hundred percent, no fire, don’t leave no sign. Roll up that tent every mornin case Forest Service snoops around. Got the dogs, your .30-.30, sleep there. Last summer had goddam near twenty-five-percent loss. I don’t want that again. […] Tomorrow mornin we’ll truck you up the jump-off.” Pair of deuces going nowhere.
During the day Ennis looked across a great gulf and sometimes saw Jack, a small dot moving across a high meadow, as an insect moves across a tablecloth; Jack, in his dark camp, saw Ennis as night fire, a red spark on the huge black mass of mountain.
“Tell you what, you got a get up a dozen times in the night out there over them coyotes. Happy to switch but give you warnin I can’t cook worth a shit. Pretty good with a can opener.”
“Can’t be no worse than me, then. Sure, I wouldn’t mind a do it.”
They fended off the night for an hour with the yellow kerosene lamp, and around ten Ennis rode Cigar Butt, a good night horse, through the glimmering frost back to the sheep, carrying leftover biscuits, a jar of jam, and a jar of coffee with him for the next day, saying he’d save a trip, stay out until supper.
They were respectful of each other’s opinions, each glad to have a companion where none had been expected. Ennis, riding against the wind back to the sheep in the treacherous, drunken light, thought he’d never had such a good time, felt he could paw the white out of the moon.
Ennis woke in red dawn with his pants around his knees, a top-grade headache, and Jack butted against him; without saying anything about it, both knew how it would go for the rest of the summer, sheep be damned.
There were only the two of them on the mountain, flying in the euphoric, bitter air, looking down on the hawk’s back and the crawling lights of vehicles on the plain below, suspended above ordinary affairs and distant from tame ranch dogs barking in the dark hours. They believed themselves invisible, not knowing Joe Aguirre had watched them through his 10x42 binoculars for ten minutes one day, waiting until they’d buttoned up their jeans, waiting until Ennis rode back to the sheep, before bringing up the message that Jack’s people had sent word that his uncle Harold was in the hospital with pneumonia and expected not to make it. Though he did, and Aguirre came up again to say so, fixing Jack with his bold stare, not bothering to dismount.
Even when the numbers were right Ennis knew the sheep were mixed. In a disquieting way everything seemed mixed.
“Right,” said Jack, and they shook hands, hit each other on the shoulder; then there was forty feet of distance between them and nothing to do but drive away in opposite directions. Within a mile Ennis felt like someone was pulling his guts out hand over hand a yard at a time. He stopped at the side of the road and, in the whirling new snow, tried to puke but nothing came up. He felt about as bad as he ever had and it took a long time for the feeling to wear off.
He pressed his face into the fabric and breathed in slowly through his mouth and nose, hoping for the faintest smoke and mountain sage and salty sweet stink of Jack, but there was no real scent, only the memory of it, the imagined power of Brokeback Mountain of which nothing was left but what he held in his hands.