Fire Metaphor in Brokeback Mountain: The Importance of Queer Relationships

Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain is chock full of natural simile and metaphor, but perhaps the most consistent natural metaphor is fire, as it represents Jack and Ennis’ romance. At the beginning of the novella, Jack viewed Ennis as “night fire, a red spark on the huge black mass of mountain” (Proulx 9). This is meant to symbolize that Jack is beginning to feel desire for specifically Ennis, and no one else. When their relationship deepens further than friendship, the bed is described as “deep enough, warm enough, and in a little while their intimacy deepened considerably… Jack seized [Ennis’] left hand and brought it to his cock. Ennis jerked away as if he’d touched fire…” (Proulx 14). It is important to notice that the bed is described as deep and warm, which are the same conditions needed to kindle a fire. Yet fire itself is only described when Ennis touches Jack, meaning that the “fire” is something that happens specifically between them.

After the first time Ennis and Jack have sex, fire imagery and metaphor broadens itself to Brokeback mountain’s environment. “They never talked about sex, let it happen, at first only in the tent at night, then in full daylight with the hot sun striking down, and at evening in the fire glow…” (Proulx 15). At this point, Proulx is describing a fire metaphor that exists in natural imagery, which is somewhat broader than Jack and Ennis’s relationship. Yet even with natural imagery’s involvement, Proulx only draws comparisons to fire when Jack and Ennis have sex, meaning that Jack and Ennis are now immersed in this personal, romantic, and passionate world they had the freedom to create on Brokeback mountain.   

Natural metaphor has appeared frequently in our assigned readings but each element is used to describe the queer community through a different lens. Adrienne Rich uses water metaphor in her poem Study of History, as the river she writes about represents both the individual queer body and queer community (see my first blog post for a deeper analysis). However, Study of History never focuses on relationships or interactions between queer people. Fire metaphor in Brokeback Mountain seemingly fills in the gaps that water metaphor leaves behind; it acknowledges the beauty of queer connections, queer relationships, and queer romances. Bodies of water, such as rivers, seem to last as long as time; they erode and divert channels to freely flow into horizons we cannot see the end of. Yet fires are kindled in very intimate, specific conditions, and burn brightly before fizzling out. While it is important to study queerness as an individual or communal body, acknowledging the brightly burning, unique relationships that queer bodies create adds a new level of depth and beauty to analyzing what it means to be queer.

2 thoughts on “Fire Metaphor in Brokeback Mountain: The Importance of Queer Relationships”

  1. Hello 🙂 I really enjoyed your analysis of fire in Jack and Ennis’ relationship. I also wrote about this passion shared between the two that was symbolized by fire and would add that the sparks in the fire described in the book could also add to the meaning of this metaphor. On page 39. Proulx says, “without getting up he threw deadwood on the fire, the sparks flying up with their truths and lies. In this way, I see how the individual yet conjoined passion that is shared by the two men could be made sense of through the sparks of the fire. These individual yet fleeting moments of passion come up individually, illustrated by sparks coming up from the fire, but also cannot solely survive individually, which is illustrated by the nature of sparks disappearing into thin air after leaving the fire.

  2. First off your writing is beautiful and I enjoyed reading this post:) The continuation of fire as a metaphor for queer relationships is perfectly fitting for Jack and Ennis’ relationship in Brokeback mountain. I really enjoyed your analysis but would also include another aspect of fire that represents their relationship- danger. With the heat, passion, and excitement of the fire, also comes the possibility of being burned. I think this is a necessary part of the metaphor to address as their relationship basically revolves around a fear of violence. Their only time to be together is completely alone on a mountain. Ennis learned from a young age that queer bodies are targeted by members of his own community and that he will face violence if he strays from the status quo. Every time fire appears in relation to Jack and Ennis’ relationship it is representing their passionate and beautiful relationship, but also the constant threat of violence that goes along with the beauty.

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