Jack and Ennis’s difficult childhoods have shaped their adult lives. Because of this, they think often about what home means to them and they search for a new concept of home that is more welcoming than the ones with which they grew up. Ennis seeks a sense of home by denying his desire for Jack and sticking to traditional notions of family and masculinity, while Jack searches for home in Ennis. He frequently asks to see Ennis more often, and repeatedly proposes that they run away together to start a ranch or go somewhere with less restrictive social norms. Ennis always refuses on the grounds of familial responsibility and physical safety, a choice that ultimately denies both of them their ideal concept of home. Home is a word that is traditionally associated with a sense of belonging, warmth, comfort, and happiness. In reality, however, home for both men proves to be more closely associated with restrictive social norms, expectations, and responsibilities than with belonging or happiness.
Jack and Ennis’s childhood homes inform who they become and how they make decisions, which impacts their lives and relationships. While their childhoods had significant differences (Ennis’s parents died when he was young, while Jack’s parents outlive him), their early lives had significant parallels. Both grew up in Wyoming, and neither man finished high school or had lofty career ambitions. Both Jack and Ennis have also experienced abuse at the hands of their fathers. Ennis’s father was a violent man who may have murdered a gay man (Earl), and Jack’s father, who is similarly homophobic, once beat and urinated on Jack as a toddler. The abuse both men endured at the hands of their fathers impacts how they approach their taboo relationship. Ennis’s homophobic father scares him into not wanting to live as a couple with Jack, for he fears for their physical safety, while Jack longs to fulfill his desires in spite of his upbringing and wants to live with Ennis on their own ranch. Ennis’s concept of home is one of physical safety, whereas Jack’s is one of emotional fulfillment.
For both men, the summer of 1963 on Brokeback Mountain is as close as they get to their concepts of home: they are secluded in the mountain, surrounded only by nature and one another, so they feel simultaneously physically safe and emotionally fulfilled. The beauty and solitude of the mountain is a memory that chases Jack and Ennis for the rest of their lives. They recall it as a time before the pressures of children and wives dominated their lives, and before they realized just how special it was that they had a place where they could be together, unafraid that they would be punished by society.
The two men strive repeatedly to recreate this environment by retreating into the wilderness for their affairs over the next twenty years, but they never come close to the purity and ease they achieved on the mountain. Ennis is never able to forget his responsibilities towards his work and his children. He’s also never fully at ease, and worries that if they make a wrong move, or act suspiciously in the wrong place, they will be in danger of being beaten, or even being murdered. Jack longs to erase these responsibilities and fears, and to run away to Mexico with Ennis. When they meet, they frequently argue about when and how they will see each other next, a concern that never came up on the mountain, where time and desire seemed endless and without limit.
When Jack dies, Ennis creates a shrine to his memory with a postcard of Brokeback Mountain and some of their old shirts. Brokeback Mountain is intimately tied to his memories of his lover, no matter how many years have passed since that first summer together. Despite Jack’s violent murder, Ennis chooses to remember him the way he was on the mountain, before life and society kept them apart. Yet the two-dimensional postcard will never come close to their lost experience of feeling at home on the mountain, which underscores that feeling at home is a rarefied experience that must be cultivated and treasured.
Home and Belonging ThemeTracker
Home and Belonging Quotes in Brokeback Mountain
They were raised on small, poor ranches in opposite corners of the state, Jack Twist in Lightning Flat, up on the Montana border, Ennis del Mar from around Sage, near the Utah line, both high-school drop-out country boys with no prospects, brought up to hard work and privation, both rough-mannered, rough-spoken, inured to the stoic life.
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.
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.
“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.
“Ennis, please, no more damn lonesome ranches for us,” she said, sitting on his lap, wrapping her thin, freckled arms around him. “Let’s get a place here in town.”
“I guess,” said Ennis… They stayed in the little apartment, which he favored because it could be left at any time.
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 and Ennis, not big on endearments, said what he said to his horses and daughters, “Little darlin.”
“Friend,” said Jack. “We got us a fuckin situation here. Got a figure out what to do.”
“I doubt there’s nothin now we can do,” said Ennis. “What I’m sayin, Jack, I built a life up in them years. Love my little girls. Alma? It ain’t her fault. You got your baby and wife, that place in Texas. You and me can’t hardly be decent together if what happened back there”—he jerked his head in the direction of the apartment—“grabs” on us like that. We do that in the wrong place we’ll be dead. There’s no reins on this one. It scares the piss out a me.”
“Dad made sure I seen it. Took me to see it. Me and K.E. Dad laughed about it. Hell, for all I know he done the job. If he was alive and was to put his head in that door right now you bet he’d go get his tire iron. Two guys livin together? No. All I can see is we get together once in a while way the hell out in the back a nowhere—”
Her resentment opened out a little every year: the embrace she had glimpsed, Ennis’s fishing trips once or twice a year with Jack Twist and never a vacation with her and the girls, his disinclination to step out and have any fun, his yearning for low-paid, long-houred ranch work, his propensity to roll to the wall and sleep as soon as he hit the bed, his failure to look for a decent permanent job with the county or the power company put her in a long, slow dive, and when Alma, Jr., was nine and Francine seven she said, What am I doin, hangin around with him, divorced Ennis, and married the Riverton grocer.
The old man spoke angrily. “I can’t get no help out here. Jack used a say, ‘Ennis del Mar,’ he used a say, ‘I’m goin a bring him up here one a these days and we’ll lick this damn ranch into shape.’ He had some half-baked idea the two a you was goin a move up here, build a log cabin, and help me run this ranch and bring it up. Then this spring he’s got another one’s goin a come up here with him and build a place and help run the ranch, some ranch neighbor a his from down in Texas. He’s goin a split up with his wife and come back here. So he says. But like most a Jack’s ideas it never come to pass.”
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.