The Mountain as a Metaphor

       The mountain as a metaphor describes an end goal, it is a point in one’s life when we can truly say we have made it. It implies that you can only experience the accomplishment of life once you reach the summit. However, as Eli Clare points out, this metaphor was created for and by a heteronormative ableist society. It disregards the people that they label as ‘others’ and blames them for their failure to get to the top. For Clare, the mountain metaphor describes more than an end goal, it describes an accomplishment that society has made impossible for him to achieve. 

       “We hear from the summit that the world is grand from up there, that we live down here at the bottom because we are lazy, stupid, weak, and ugly…. We speak the wrong language, with the wrong accents, wear the wrong clothes, carry our bodies the wrong ways, ask the wrong questions, love the wrong people” (Clare 1).

As he describes, this metaphor blames them in their failure to reach the top. Implying that by being who are, for having been born a certain way or loving certain people, we are the ones who choose to stay at the bottom.

       This metaphor is what drew me to the metaphor of Brokeback Mountain. For Brokeback Mountain this location is more than just a place, it represents a time and a series of memories. For Jack and Ennis, Brokeback Mountain was a place filled with passion, affection, and love. It was the one place where they could spend months together without people questioning their relationship. In a way, Brokeback Mountain is the summit. It is the place where they were free to indulge in the pleasures of mundane affection – where “Ennis [could] come up behind [Jack] and [pull] him close” (Proulx 43). Emphasizing that while this was a place where they could be sexual, it was also a place where they can just be. This moment, where Ennis can “pull him close,” is a moment full of love – a moment of affection beyond the pleasures of sex. A moment that would otherwise have been rejected by their heteronormative society. In Brokeback Mountain, they could freely love.

       Connecting Jack and Ennis’ experience in Brokeback Mountain to Clare’s mountain metaphor makes it easier to understand why they could not return to Brokeback Mountain. Just as the mountain metaphor describes an impossible goal for Clare – as it was constructed to be impossible for him – so too is Brokeback Mountain a love that Jack and Ennis could not experience. In a society that values heteronormativity and disregards disability, the mountain metaphor makes it impossible for people who do not fit the ideal to partake in it. For Clare, society has made the summit impossible to reach. For Jack and Ennis, society has made the summit impossible to return to. For all of them, the summit represents a desire that they cannot have.

3 thoughts on “The Mountain as a Metaphor”

  1. Great post, this is a super interesting connection. The mountain as an ever-elusive figure is an important component of both books. The first Clare quote you referenced reminded me of the capitalistic saying of “climbing the ladder.” For those not born into privilege, this can often turn out to be a near impossible task, and these people at the bottom are demonized for their “lack of ethic.” These common metaphors, so integrated into our culture, are often rhetoric that puts the onus on the people at the bottom to prosper in a society that devalues and disadvantages them (instead of putting the pressure on social and political change), whether it be because of class, disability, sexuality, etc.

  2. Wow! Great Post!
    In Brokeback Mountain hegemony exists because the culture of heterosexual relationships dominated society. Religiously, politically, and socially, it was prohibited to enter in a same sex marriage. The mountain in the story and in Elis narrative is a place where the position of power is removed. The two men challenged the meaning of the practice by going to the mountain as a place of equal social structure. There is no political or social condition that exists at the mountain temporarily until they realize that society has made it impossible for them and they can no longer return.

  3. Hello 🙂 I really liked reading your analysis of the mountain in both Clare’s and Proulx’s works. It was fascinating how you drew a connection between both mountain metphors to signify the impossible goal of achieving something and feeling pressured to achieve this by society. I would add another interpretation of the symbolism of the mountain in both texts: the Mountain could symbolize a sense of withdrawal from society. The peak of a mountain is far and secluded, and many times people venture to “the mountains” as an escape from everyday reality. Both Jack and Ennis, and Clare experience a sense of being shunned from society and therefore have experienced a desire to hide and keep to themselves in order to cope with the pressure of societal conformity. We see Clare do this as a coping mechanism for the abuse he went through and we see Jack and Ennis go through this in an attempt to escape from reality and their consciousness’.

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