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Brokeback Mountain | Study Guide

Annie Proulx

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Brokeback Mountain | Symbols


Brokeback Mountain

The most prominent symbol in the story is Brokeback Mountain itself. At the emotional core of the narrative, Brokeback Mountain is not only the setting where Ennis and Jack meet and fall in love—it represents the love itself and the excitement of feeling "there were only the two of them on the mountain flying in the euphoric ... air." Interestingly they don't return to the mountain, yet it overshadows the entire story. The mountain evokes a time when they were happy and filled with desire. The mountain's separation from civilization provides an opportunity to escape from the reality of their difficult lives. They don't have much, but they will always have the memory of their summer on Brokeback Mountain.


Jack and Ennis's intertwined shirts are a symbol of their hidden relationship. When Ennis visits Jack's parents after Jack's death, it's significant that he finds the paired shirts in the closet of Jack's room. Over the years Jack and Ennis maintained they are not "queer" and this deceptive behavior extended to keeping their romance closeted, or hidden. Jack had held on to this romantic symbol for 20 years, "the pair like two skins, one inside the other, two in one." Touched, Ennis holds the shirts to his face, inhaling deeply and hoping for the scent of that long ago summer. Taking the shirts home, he hangs them up under a postcard of Brokeback Mountain where they serve as a reminder of what happened that summer on the mountain.

Tire Iron

The tire iron appears several times in "Brokeback Mountain" and represents homophobia, hatred, and brutality toward homosexuals. It also symbolizes a hate crime resulting in death. When Ennis was a boy a rancher suspected of being homosexual was brutally murdered with a tire iron. "What the tire iron done looked like pieces a burned tomatoes all over him." Ennis's father forces him to view the man "dead in a irrigation ditch" and he has never forgotten that image. When Lureen describes how Jack died, Ennis doesn't believe that a flat tire burst and "slammed the rim into his face." The image of Jack drowning "in his own blood" makes him think that "they got him with the tire iron." Jack's death echoes the vicious murder from Ennis's childhood. At the very end of the story Ennis dreams about Jack. He envisions Jack spooning beans from a can during their Brokeback Mountain summer. In his dream he notices that the spoon handle "was the kind that could be used as a tire iron," forcing Ennis to wake "in grief." Ennis is now haunted by the deaths of two men executed as punishment for being homosexual.

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