Masculinity in Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx

Categories: Masculinity

The classic stereotype of the Western cowboy impacts the way Ennis and Jack view their relationship throughout the screenplay based on the short story, Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx and the film Brokeback Mountain directed by Ang Lee. The stereotypical Western cowboy is depicted throughout as quite masculine and are expected to behave and live a certain way, this is not directed said, but the film and novel suggests so. This typical stereotype leads Ennis and Jack to respond indifferently.

They’re quite confused, hesitant and in denial of their relationship.

Although wary of the consequences of continuing their relationship together, they’re unable to resist the temptations of each other. As secretive as they try to be, it advocates that the towns’ people and their family realize their true intentions and are quite cold and disapproving to Ennis and Jack. The continuation of their relationship tests Ennis and Jack, and how far they’re willing to take it to keep their relationship intact but private.

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Jack and Ennis’ upbringing are similar, to the environment of where they lived to how they were brought up to act. The first stage of their affair which occurs in Brokeback Mountain they fall for each other, though they do not vocalize anything their actions say it all. When they try talk about their situation it leads to an argument and in the end nothing gets resolved and they become hesitant of their feelings towards each other. The typical cowboy was depicted throughout the novel and film as quite masculine and that showing affection towards another man would be considered weak, this gives reason to Jack and Ennis’ reaction towards their relationship and that it would not be placed in high regard in society.

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Jack and Ennis had violent relationships with both their fathers.

At an early age Jack would get beaten up by his father John, who was a very brutal man and showed no remorse for his actions “I thought he was killing me” (Proulx, 1999, p. 25) the extent of Johns violence went far and influenced Jacks behavior throughout his life and taught him that if he were very at fault cruel consequences would occur. Sexual orientation back in the 60s in Wyoming affected how Ennis carried out his feelings of love to Jack. Although it is quite clear he cares for Jack he is aware of the indictment that comes with homosexuals in their society.

Ennis’ father is suggested in the film to be quite homophobic and Ennis is mindful of this, at a young age his father takes Ennis to a dead body which is then clarified to have been a male that was murdered for being a homosexual, Ennis even goes on to suggest that his father might have had something to do with the murder “My daddy, he made sure me and brother seen it. Hell for all I know, he done the job.” (Lee, 2005). This gives reason for Ennis’ to be in denial of his sexuality and to maintain his image of a “rough-mannered, rough spoken…” (Proulx, 1999, p. 2) Western cowboy.

After their first sexual encounter at Brokeback Mountain their feelings are conflicted and whilst they enjoy the company of each other when Jack tries to talk to Ennis about their relationship Ennis is quick to point out that “He’s no queer,” whilst jack jumps in with “Me either. A one-shot thing. Nobodys business but ours.” (Proulx, 1999, p. 7). Once they have finished the summer herding the sheep up at Brokeback, they are then go their separate ways not saying much about what has happened.

Whilst walking away Ennis stops to the side and feels sick, but as much as he tries to throw up he realizes that only thoughts of regret for leaving Jack and never establishing anything with him is the only realization he comes to. After four years without word from each other Jack sends word to Ennis and he is overcome by excitement and eagerness and once Jack arrives Ennis embraces him intimately without hesitation, this is a change of demeanor for Ennis as before he was reluctant and fully aware of the consequences for such actions in public, yet in this very moment he quickly disregards any sense of judgment or repercussion for what is known to be frowned upon by the community.

For several years they have kept their relationship in the same state, secretive and in denial of their true feelings, which is more so Ennis than Jack who was more open about it. Ennis in attempt to keep the typical stereotype of a masculine western cowboy he turns down Jacks offers of a life together for he is more afraid of what could happen if they were to do so which was influenced by his fathers homophobic disposition as a child. They both know that their actions in their society would condemn them both to a hard life or worst case death.

Jack and Ennis marry women and raise a family in attempt to be normal and behave as ordinary western cowboys. Jack marries Lureen, and of them two Lureen is the manlier figure in their relationship. Lureen’s father L.D Newsome is a prime example of the typical masculine man. Newsome takes pleasure in putting Jack in his place whenever the opportunity arises. In pursuit of putting Newsome in his place when he attempts to hold reins over how Jack should behave at thanksgiving Jack responds surprisingly “This is my house! This is my child! And you are my guest! Now sit the hell down before I knock your ignorant ass into next week!” (Lee, 2005).

Before Jack and Ennis met, Ennis was already engaged to Alma, he portrays the behavior of the stereotype of the cowboy and how men were meant to go about their lives to fit in society then. When Ennis is divorced from Alma, Ennis is encountered by a Cassie. In the film, when Cassie tries to dance with Ennis when their faces are towards each other Ennis is shown smiling, but as soon as she places her head away he looks displeased at the situation. Although any typical man would be happy about that situation it’s clear that Ennis is not. When Jack and Ennis’ relationship progresses Ennis becomes more anxious and paranoid “…when you’re in town and someone looks at you all suspicious, like he knows? And then you go out on the pavement and everyone looks like they know too?” (Lee, 2005) this gives reason for Ennis to step back again and become enclosed about their relationship.

When Ennis finds out of Jacks death he is lead to believe that he was found out about his sexuality in the community and was murdered for this. This was just as before when Ennis’ father showed him the murdered body of a homosexual and now for not behaving as you should in the community Jack paid the price. The crippling effect of the normative masculinity of the stereotypical cowboy is consequently frowned upon greatly and if you were to behave indifferently through sexuality severe outcomes would occur. This led Jack and Ennis to be hesitant of portraying their relationship openly as they would be incriminated by the community.

Reference List:

  1. Lee, A. (Director). (2005). Brokeback Mountain. America: River Road Entertainment, Good Machine.
  2. Proulx, A. (2006). Brokeback Mountain, the story. Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay (pp. 1-28). London: Perennial.

Cite this page

Masculinity in Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx. (2016, Mar 27). Retrieved from

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