Brokeback Mountain

“In December Ennis married Alma Beers and had her pregnant by mid-January… Alma Jr., as he called his daughter, was born and their bedroom was full of the smell of old blood and milk and baby shit”.

This quote sums up, for me, the hypocrisy of the story “Brokeback Mountain”. While Annie Proulx seems to want to tell us about how hard life was for gays during that period, she trivialises the suffering that their spouses (in this case Alma) went through.

The dismissive tone that Annie writes about how Ennis got Alma pregnant “by mid-January” made it seem as if this was some obstacle to get over with as soon as possible.

The way Ennis’ daughter’s bedroom is described, “old blood and milk and baby shit” and the words following that, shows the disdain Ennis had for the whole process of procreation, as if to say this was something he “had” to do despite hating everything about it.

Apart from the psychological effects that finding out your spouse is in fact gay, and no, they did not really love you, neither did they want to have a baby with you (which Proulx then brushes off by having Alma marry someone else and maintain her happy-go-lucky attitude), it shows how these women were viewed as “collateral damage”.

If Proulx wanted me to sympathise with these two characters, she should have had them run off together to Mexico, preferably without the involvement of any poor wives or girlfriends. But perhaps that would make for a very boring story.

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7 thoughts on “Brokeback Mountain

  1. I agree with you that the spouses of the two gay men, especially Alma, are deeply hurt by their relationship too, but how does it make the story a hypocrisy? I think part of the effect of the story comes from how it exposes the deeply trenched situation of everyone in a homophobia society: the gay men, their wives, their children, and even their parents, so the bad treatment that Alma gets from a gay husband who’s struggling with his masculinity invites reader’s sympathy, too. While you may sympathize with one or the other character more, Annie Proulx certainly does not want to idolize her gay couple in this story . —But the film is another thing; you can’t help get an idealized version of the two cowboys when they are played by extremely beautiful actors, which you can’t blame too much on the director, too, for that’s how the film industry works.

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    1. Hi Ms. Fu!

      From the part that we read, I just get the impression that Proulx is trying to make us sympathise with Ennis and Jack only, and perhaps I am misunderstanding, but almost trying to shove down our throats, “If people were more tolerant, this kind of thing won’t happen!” Well I think the two main characters need to take a major part of the blame as well, they were not brave enough to escape their situation, so they did not deserve to. I am not excusing the actions of the homophobes, but what can an individual do in that situation? The mentality was too ingrained in society, so it was either fight or flight. Instead they chose to live in denial, fake their love for their wives, cheat on them, and so on. To me they are either cowards or psychopaths.

      From the snippet we read, there is almost no mention of their wives/girlfriends apart from one small paragraph buried inside, and then towards the end Alma seems surprisingly unaffected, while Lureen is portrayed as an idiot who doesn’t know how to raise her kids but wise, caring Jack can’t do anything about it.

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      1. I agree that the two cowboys are coward in some sense too while maintaining the touch cowboy facade to their wives, because they didn’t really think about escaping the environment and setting up a new life together —-well Jack suggests that and even tries it out a bit, but pays by his life (or at least as Ennis believes). Ennis is the more conservative one, but his vision of life is deeply influenced by his environment which he as a half-broke uneducated man cannot escape: his has little family love, no special skills, and the only lesson he got from his homophobia father imprints eternal fear in him —we as equipped with psychology knowledge knows that having a kid see a mutilated body may traumatize him for life. But proper education and a right attitude to life is precisely what Ennis lacks, and what we from a more advantageous position own (we do have a much better education) ; he is from a very rigid society and lacks the resources or the open-mentality to think outside of it. And that’s why I mentioned this story is about poverty, or class— poverty restricts one’s vision and ability to change himself or his surrounding, and that perpetuate poverty. But Ennis is far from blameless, the story portrays well how he has hurt everyone who loves him because of his rigid notion of masculinity, and he has to carry the burden of regret and guilt the rest of his life. So in a sense this is a story not only about personal tragedy, but tragedy of a society. In the end we don’t see any inherent forces to change that rural Wyoming community, and stories like that is likely to repeat itself.
        As to the the scarcity of the two men’s wives mentioned in the story, I personally understand the detached, even cold tone describing the wives indicates the husbands’ indifference to them, thus revealing to the reader the implicit cruelty of the men. So instead of romanticizing the men, the author does have a detached and critical attitude to them, and the wives certainly invite our sympathy. As to Lureen’s not knowing her son being an idiot, we have to understand that this is from Jack’s conversation with Ennis (which is different from the verdict of the narrator, or the author’s position), and Jack is very likely to lie about his life to Ennis. We know that because we know Jack had lied to Ennis about his affair with the ranch neighbour’s wife whereas he is having an affair with the ranch neighbour himself — so you can’t trust Jack too much.

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  2. Hi Clement, I’m doing the mid-term check and it seems that you are way behind schedule. Please make up for the missing weeks (1, 2,3, 5, and the current week 6). Refer to my questions in each week’s ppt.

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