Brokeback Mountain (short story)

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"Brokeback Mountain"
Brokeback Mountain Annie Proulx.jpg
Author Annie Proulx
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Short story
Published in The New Yorker
Publication type Magazine
Publisher The New Yorker
Media type Print (Periodical)
Publication date October 13, 1997

"Brokeback Mountain" is a short story by American author Annie Proulx. It was originally published in The New Yorker on October 13, 1997, and was subsequently published in a slightly expanded version in Proulx's 1999 collection of short stories, Close Range: Wyoming Stories. The story won an O. Henry Award prize (third place) in 1998. The New Yorker won the National Magazine Award for Fiction for its publication of "Brokeback Mountain" in 1998. The collection was named a finalist for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.

Screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana adapted the story for the film of the same name, released in 2005. At that time, the short story and the screenplay were published together, along with essays by Proulx and the screenwriters, in Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay.[1][2] The story was also published separately in book form.


In 1963, two young men, Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, are hired for the summer to look after sheep on the fictional Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming. Unexpectedly, they form an intense emotional and sexual attachment, but have to part ways at the end of the summer. Over the next twenty years, as their separate lives play out with marriages, children, and jobs, they continue reuniting for brief liaisons on camping trips in remote settings.

Literary form[edit]

"Brokeback Mountain" is a story told by an omniscient narrator. The narrative is realistic in tone and employs description, metaphor and dialogue to examine the actions, thoughts, emotions, and motivations of its main characters.

The narrative is mostly linear; the story describes events in sequence from a beginning point in time, the year 1963 when the characters are introduced, to the end of the story some 20 years later. Other than the title location, the settings are actual locations in the United States, and the characters are described as real people living in a specific milieu. The story adheres to conventions of modern dramatic fiction; its literary devices serve to present a portrait of recognizable people in familiar situations, without supernatural or metaphysical allusions (while other of the "Wyoming Stories" do include passages of magical realism).

The story begins with the introduction of the two protagonists:

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.

From there, the story is an episodic examination of conflicts arising from the characters' interaction with each other and other people in their lives. The story condenses passing years and significant events into brief passages, and employs dialogue to reveal character and conflict.

They never talked about the sex, let it happen, at first only in the tent at night, then in the full daylight with the hot sun striking down, and at evening in the fire glow, quick, rough, laughing and snorting, no lack of noises, but saying not a goddamn word except once Ennis said, "I'm not no queer," and Jack jumped in with "Me neither. A one shot thing. Nobody's business but ours."


According to Proulx, her inspiration for the characters did not come from real life, though she mentioned one incident in which she noticed a middle-aged man in a bar, who appeared to be watching only the men playing pool, which led her to consider the life of a typical western ranch hand who might be gay. Regarding the setting, Proulx stated:

Rural North America, regional cultures, the images of an ideal and seemingly attainable world the characters cherish in their long views despite the rigid and difficult circumstances of their place and time interest me and are what I write about. I watch for the historical skew between what people have hoped for and who they thought they were and what befell them."[3][4]

About the story's main characters, Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, Proulx said they affected her long after the story was published, and the film version rekindled her feelings for them — an attachment that she had previously rejected. In an interview in The Missouri Review,[5] Proulx called the notion of falling in love with fictional characters "repugnant".

Film adaptation[edit]

Main article: Brokeback Mountain

The film Brokeback Mountain won numerous awards, including Academy Awards (for 2005) for Best Adapted Screenplay (McMurtry and Ossana), Best Director (Ang Lee), and Best Original Score (Gustavo Santaolalla). It was nominated for a total of eight awards (the most that year), including Best Picture, Best Actor (Heath Ledger as Ennis), and Best Supporting Actor (Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack). Its loss of Best Picture to Crash was not generally expected, though predicted by some.[6]

Proulx has praised the faithfulness of the adaptation of her story into a feature film. Before the movie was made, she called McMurtry and Ossana's adaptation "an exceptionally fine screenplay." Later, she praised the film as "huge and powerful," writing that she was "knocked for a loop" when she first saw it.

I may be the first writer in America to have a piece of writing make its way to the screen whole and entire," she said. "And, when I saw the film for the first time, I was astonished that the characters of Jack and Ennis came surging into my mind again...

Nearly all of the dialogue and descriptions from the original story were included in the screenplay. Few major differences have been noted. Most of the changes involve expansion, with brief mentions of the characters' marriages in the story becoming scenes of domestic life in the film. The narrative sequence is nearly identical in story and film: both begin with Jack and Ennis meeting in 1963 and end with a scene of Ennis 20 years later. One example of adaptation of the story's dramatic arc arises from a significant memory (of the men embracing by a campfire): it appears in the film as a flashback in the same sequence as Jack recalls it in the story.

Before Lee's adaptation, Gus Van Sant had wished to make an adaptation starring Matt Damon and Joaquin Phoenix. Among the reasons it never made it to production included Damon's refusal to make a "gay-cowboy movie" immediately after starring in a "gay movie" (The Talented Mr. Ripley) and a "cowboy movie" (All the Pretty Horses).[7] Damon later named Brokeback Mountain as the "movie [he] didn't do that [he wishes he] had."[8]


Gerard Mortier and the New York City Opera commissioned Charles Wuorinen, an American composer, to turn Proulx's story into a work for the operatic stage. Proulx wrote the libretto, and Wuorinen completed the opera in 2012. The premiere was postponed after New York City Opera's General Director, Gerard Mortier, resigned. The project was then again taken up by Mortier at the Teatro Real in Madrid where Brokeback Mountain is set to premiere on 28 January 2014.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay (Trade Paperback)". Scribner. Retrieved 2007-07-24. 
  2. ^ "Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay (Hardcover)". Scribner. Retrieved 2007-07-24. 
  3. ^ Testa, Matthew (December 7, 2005). "Exclusive PJH Interview: At close range with Annie Proulx". Planet Jackson Hole. Retrieved 2007-07-24. 
  4. ^ Testa, Matthew (December 29, 2005). "Close Range". Salt Lake City Weekly. Retrieved 2006-03-16. 
  5. ^ "Interview with Annie Proulx". The Missouri Review Vol. XXII, No. 2. 1999. 
  6. ^ Associated Press (7 Feb 2006). "Can ‘Brokeback Mountain’ survive ‘Crash’?". Retrieved 7 June 2010. 
  7. ^ Nashawaty, Chris (August 10, 2007). Entertainment Weekly. The Strong Violent Type.[1]
  8. ^ Nashawaty, Chris (August 10, 2007). Entertainment Weekly. The Strong Violent Type.[2]
  9. ^ "Opera: Brokeback Mountain, Teatro Real;". 2013-10-02. Retrieved 2013-10-02. 

Further reading[edit]

Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay (includes the short story and film screenplay), New York: Scribner, 2005. ISBN 0-7432-9416-5; ISBN 978-0-7432-9416-4

Proulx, Annie (1997, 1999, 2006). Close Range: Brokeback Mountain and Other Stories. London, New York, Toronto and Sydney: Harper Perennial. ISBN 0-00-720558-9; ISBN 978-0-00-720558-5