“Ennis …hit the ground on his knee…But before [Jack] was out of the truck, trying to guess if it was heart attack or the overflow of an incendiary rage, Ennis was back on his feet and somehow, as a coat hanger is straightened to open a locked car and then bent again to its original shape…” (Proulx 42-43; I leave this sentence hanging unfinished here).
The writer Ocean Vuong posits that a metaphor is a “detour” from the original subject, leading to “discoveries” in order to “transform” and/or “amplify” the meaning upon our return (Vuong). A “strong” metaphor, which can work without context, demands simultaneously a “sensory connector” and “clear logical connection” between the original subject and the “transforming element.” In Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx crafts a powerful metaphor (in bold above) that magnifies Ennis and Jack’s emotional and corporeal relationship by connecting their bodies to the materiality that shapes them, i.e. the “transforming elements” of “coat hanger” and “locked car.”
The bolded image demonstrates a sensory and logical connection between Jack and Ennis’ rural male bodies and “coat hanger[s].” The coat hanger, as Ennis later discovers in Jack’s closet, is made of “wire” (51). “Wire,” in texture, is a hard and tough metal, like the “cowboy” masculine performative skin these men put on: “I’m not no queer,” says Ennis, “Me neither,” says Jack (15). However, this thin wire can be “bent,” like their sexuality and bodies: they oscillate between a certain sexuality with each other and their public sexuality. Proulx even illustrates this sexual oscillation in their last names: “Twist” already denotes bendability and “del Mar” in Spanish means “of the sea,” which conveys a vast body of volatile indeterminate water, volatile literally in shape and texture. The wire hanger also carries their clothing, another layer of their social skin/status. It carries both their shirts “like two skins, one inside the other, two in one” (52). This convergence of skin conjures their sexual intimacy, their practiced anal penetrative sex, as one skin enters into/”inside” the other. Proulx grounds Jack and Ennis’ intricate sexuality within the materiality that shares the texture of their identity and their life.
While “coat hanger[s]” deepens our understanding of their performative and private sexuality with each other, they are the tools to open also another component of Proulx’s metaphor: “a locked car.” Bending a coat hanger in order to “open a locked car” announces the stealthiness or the illegality of such action, or, of Jack and Ennis’ intimate and illicit encounters. However, this stealthy and illegal act also enables mobility, security, and survival: they enter the car, contain themselves within a larger and safer metal skin, and drive away to temporarily escape their hapless lives. But after all, they must come back to rebend themselves to their “original shape.”
Employing “coat hanger” and “locked car,” Proulx puts us on a “detour” towards the materials that allow us to touch the texture of Jack and Ennis’ reality, to feel the metal and its bending to a breaking point (in the case of Jack). These are also the materials that mark their rural and class identity, such as their cowboy clothing and their pickup trucks, which ultimately trap them where they are. The metaphors satisfy both the sensory and logical connection between the original subject (Ennis and Jack) and the transforming element (coat hanger and locked car). Proulx has successfully “recalibrated the traditional mode of value” placed on Jack and Ennis’ (homo)sexual oppression by expanding their private and public bodies with their defining materiality (Vuong). She shows that we cannot think about Jack and Ennis’ tyrannized (homo)sexuality without examining the materials that situate and trap their lives and bodies. All in one perfect and succinct metaphor.
Source: https://www.instagram.com/stories/highlights/17888013988759825/ This is a theoretical mini-essay by Ocean Vuong posted and saved only on his Instagram story highlights. If you have trouble accessing it, let me know.