Brokeback Mountain: The Development of Character's Personal Identities

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In multiple forms of literature, we see characters struggle to develop their personal identities. These characters often struggle to develop these identities because of conflicts against their environment, society or within themselves that prevent such change. The qualities or beliefs of a character may change from the beginning to the end of the story. These types of struggles are depicted in Annie Proulx’s story “Brokeback Mountain” as well as Phil Klay’s story “Redeployment”. Both stories portray the development of a characters personal identity being challenged by a variety of elements. Proulx’s story uses the development of Jack and Ennis’s relationship to reflect the construction of their personal identity under the stress of their social situation. Likewise, Klay’s story uses the internal struggle of Price’s readjustment to society after returning from war to reflect the development of his personal identity.

In “Brokeback Mountain”, Ennis and Jack’s relationship develops as they try to build their personal identities while trying to stay hidden from their families and society as homosexual. Ennis and Jack develop a romantic relationship when they first meet at Brokeback Mountain for work during the summer (Proulx, 256). Brokeback Mountain eventually becomes a symbolic place that represents the development of their relationship and a place where they can show intimacy and affection towards each other without judgement. The significance of the mountain is reinforced when Proulx describes the location of the mountain as a place that is “suspended above ordinary affairs” (262). This contrasts the secretive nature of the mountain to the judgmental nature of the public eye down below. In the 20th century, especially in the 60’s where the story is first set, being homosexual was heavily looked down upon, being regarded as a sin in Christianity. In the heights of the mountain, they can be open about their feelings without being watched — or so they think. Joe Aguirre, the boss of the work operation at Brokeback Mountain, secretly “watched them through his 10×42 binoculars” (Proulx, 262). This is referred to later in the story after Jack and Ennis unite four years later. Jack tells Ennis about how he went back to Brokeback Mountain to see if any job openings were available (Proulx, 269). Joe instead decides to poke fun at him and Ennis, telling Jack “you boys found a way to make the time pass up there, didn’t you” (Proulx, 269). This is the first time in the story where Jack and Ennis’s privacy is compromised. Ennis and Jack want to be together but because of the society they live in, two of them being together risks judgement from their families, society, and possibly losing their lives. Ennis and Jack both grew up in families where they were taught that being homosexual is outrageous and wrong, especially being taught by their fathers (Proulx, 270–282).

When Ennis was a child, his father went to show him the corpse of a gay man, laughing about it and making sure that he saw it (Proulx, 270). This experience leaves Ennis worried about his and Jack’s safety, which is one of the main reasons why he objects to the idea of him and Jack living together, further complicating their development. Further into the story, Jack and Ennis need to settle with only seeing each other every few months for “fishing trips” in order to keep secret from their families (Proulx, 271). Ennis and Jack are both married to their wives and have children, which complicates their relationship because they both must maintain an equal balance of two relationships – only one of the relationships being truly wanted (Proulx, 266). Later in the story, Ennis must postpone the next time he meets with Jack because of work and child support that he must pay off as a result of divorcing his wife Alma years prior (Proulx, 277). This frustrates Jack, where he states how he puts forth much more into their relationship than Ennis does, leaving him to say, “You’re too much for me… I wish I knew how to quit you” (Proulx, 278). This is important for the development of Jack’s personal identity because it shows that Jack truly wants to be with Ennis and is why they are in the position they are in, showing that Jack has developed a self awareness of the situation. Ennis’s reaction to this dialogue adds to why this part of the story is important when reflecting how Jack and Ennis develops. Ennis stays silent, drops to the ground onto his knees, fists clinched, eyes shut, and seems to be emotional destroyed by the statement (Proulx, 278). This is important because it is one of the rare times in the story where Ennis shows strong emotion. Likewise, at the beginning, Ennis breaks down on the side of the road after himself and Jack part ways (Proulx, 264). Where Ennis tries to be the most stoic of the two, this shows how his feelings changed him as a person, to the point where he shows grief in front of someone for the first time in the story. Before Jack’s death, Ennis holds him close while standing next to a campfire and they “stood that way for a long time” (Proulx, 278). This is the part where they embrace each other out in the open for the first time in the story.

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Them embracing each other out in plain sight shows that they are able to challenge their sense of secrecy because of how much they have become attached to each other, contrary to the beginning where hiding was their main worry. It is clearly depicted in the story “Brokeback Mountain” that Ennis and Jack’s personal identities has been altered as a result of them trying the stay hidden in the eyes of society and their families.

Contrary to “Brokeback Mountain”, Klay’s story “Redeployment” uses Price’s struggle to readjust to society after the war to reflect his internal struggle to develop his personal identity. Because of his military training, readjusting to the society back home becomes a struggle that he must overcome. In the beginning of the story, we are given a sense of what qualities Price have exhibited before the war. Price describes himself as a “dog person”, even though they shoot dogs in Iraq, which reminds him his dog back home (Klay, 1). This shows that Price is currently able to distinguish the life back home with his duty in Iraq and still thinks of home as a way to keep his sanity grounded. This is then reinforced when he describes one of the dogs that they shot to be “lapping up blood the same way he’d lap up water from a bowl” (Klay 2). This shows that Price is familiar with home life and shows that he can draw contrast between the pleasant nature of home and the horrific reality of war, and therefore his life back home influences his thoughts when conflicted with war. Price tries to think of home as much as possible while on the flight but ends up thinking about the things that he saw while in Iraq, such as “the retarded guy in the cage” (Klay, 2). This foreshadows Price’s experience interfering with his thoughts, which will affect the development of his personal identity later in the story. Price already exhibits certain qualities in his behaviour that is reflected by the arrogance of the troops that he is constantly around. When they arrive in Ireland, himself and the other troops go to a bar and get extremely drunk to the point where they are “puking”, being loud, and ultimately pass out when they return to the plane (Klay, 4-5). This piece of the text shows how easily Price partakes in this bibulous activity because of his time spent around a military jock-like environment and how much these types of activities have changed his qualities after he came to Iraq. After they return to America, Price returns the rifle that he has been using for the entire deployment and is unsure where to rest his hands (Klay, 6). This is the first piece of interference we see in Price’s character after he returns home from Iraq. He is attached to this rifle for so long, what would be a natural hand resting position would be unnatural to him. Price and his wife Cheryl reunite at the military welcoming home gathering, they embrace and Price describes the feeling of Cheryl as “soft” and something he did not feel for the entirety of the deployment, making him realize that he had “forgotten” the way she felt or “never really known it” (Klay, 8). This shows how much Price has been adjusted to the military lifestyle and something so simple such as a hug, contrasts the harsh nature of war and the feeling of home. Returning to his home, he discovers that his dog Vicar has developed tumors and looks much older that what he had before his deployment in Iraq. This leaves a sense of distance between Price and reality which brings him to realize how much things have changed back home while he was gone. 

Price’s development of personal identity is slowed when he spends the majority of his time outside of work sitting in his living room, watching recorded baseball games with Vicar (Klay, 11). This affects the development of his personal identity because it shows that because of how long Price was gone, he must temporally live in the past and try to catch up on what happened while planted on his couch like a statue stuck in time. Within the story, the are references to the Military Code of Awareness such as white, orange and red (Klay, 12-13). These are important because Price describes the rest of society at a “white” (safe), himself stuck at “orange” (readiness to attend to a potential threat) and some of the troops who came back with him going straight to “red” (actively attending to a threat, “including but not limited to, firing upon that threat”) (Klay, 12-13). This perfectly describes how the war has affected him trying to fit back into society. Price struggles to go back to “white” but is trained to always be in “orange”, keeping him paranoid, while some of the troops lose sanity and go “red” and harm somebody (Klay, 12-13). This is reinforced especially when Price has this feeling when he in an American Eagle Outfitters and is scared to come out of the dressing room (Klay, 12). The climax of the story happens after Vicar is discovered to be throwing up and Price decides that it was time he was put down (Klay, 13). The way he puts the dog down is that of a military protocol. Price focuses on the iron sights of the gun, making Vicar “blurry”, and fires two shots at his chest and one shot to his head, rather than just one shot (Klay, 16). This ties the story back to when they shot dogs in Iraq. Price uses his military training to kill Vicar rather than taking him to the vet (Klay, 16). This leaves ambiguity to the story whether Price readjusts to society or not. Price’s military experience has interfered with his adjustment to society to the point where his exerts his training in a non-military environment and ultimately affects his personal identity. It seems that Price was taken out of combat, but the combat has not been taken out of Price.

Like many pieces of literature, “Brokeback Mountain” and “Redeployment” are stories that involve the development of a character’s personal identity. The use of the characters Jack, Ennis and Price are used by the writers to portray this concept. Both Proulx and Klay clearly depict how a character’s development of personal identity is affected by their social situation, or internal conflict.

Works Cited

  1. Proulx, Annie. “Brokeback Mountain.” Close Range: Wyoming Stories, Scribner, 1999, pp 255-286.
  2. Klay, Phil. “Redeployment.” Redeployment, Penguin. 2014, pp 1-16.
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