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.