The Shirts of Brokeback Mountain
An analysis of the closeted shirts in Brokeback Mountain
After the discovery of his murdered lover’s shirt, Ennis fully realized the love he and Jack felt during their time at Brokeback Mountain. Bloodstained shirts were hidden in a secret compartment in the back of his lover’s childhood closet, and they were pulled together one inside the other like two skins turned into one. The shirts were the only thing Ennis had left of his fallen lover, and the shirt scene symbolizes the men’s burning love for one another, as well as how they could never be together.
In the back of Jacks closet there was a secret compartment where Ennis and Jacks shirts were stored, and the secret compartment is symbolic of the closeted gay relationship that Jack and Ennis had to endure due to pressure and lack of acceptance from society. The whole closet with clothes in plain sight represents the straight people of the 1960’s, and that they could openly display their love for one another, while the gays of the 1960’s had to hide out in the darker hidden section of society. They would often congregate at truck stops and places other people didn’t want to go in an attempt to lessen the ridicule they would face for being homosexual. That’s why Jack stored the shirts in the back of the closet, as it took someone who understood the dark part of the closet to understand that there is often a lot more to situations and places than meets the eye. Ennis is also responsible for the dark section of the Jack’s closet, as it represents Ennis’s decision to keep them in the dark by not supporting Jack in their love for one another, and the covert compartment symbolizes Ennis’s guilt for not making the decision to love Jack because he might have been able to save his life the night of the murder. Also by not supporting Jacks love for him, he in essence supported the rest of society in the shaming of homosexuals, which also contributes to Jacks demise at the closing of the novel. Overall, it was this sharp sense of fear about Ennis’s own true sexual orientation that really led to Jack’s death and downfall.
Jacks rough denim coat covering Ennis’s soft white plaid shirt represented their relationship along with how openly gay men of the 1960’s were treated. Jack knew he wanted to sleep with Ennis almost immediately, however, it took Ennis much longer to realize his true desires, the shirts formation describes how comfortable they were with each other during their summer spent together at Brokeback Mountain. Ennis was absolutely terrified of being discovered as a homosexual, even going so far as to marry a women with whom he wasn’t in love. Jack was also afraid of being found out, as he was the more feminine of the two in the relationship he needed Ennis to be strong in their convictions with him. This is interesting because one would have thought the denim jacket representing the strength of the relationship would have been Ennis’s while the plaid shirt that represents fear would have been Jack’s. That’s why the shirts symbolize their separation because even though they both loved each other passionately, the only way Jack could ever get closer to Ennis was to put their shirts together as one. This was also a way to produce a symbolic time capsule to remember the summer they shared on Brokeback Mountain. The shirts were also a symbol of a relationship in the afterlife, because although they could no longer be together on earth Jack, and put the shirts together like one skin, which was representative of finding love when Ennis and Jack were reunited. The arrangement of the clothing was also symbolic of the passionate love they shared on Brokeback Mountain because Ennis smelled the clothing hoping for the, “faintest smoke and mountain sage and salty sweet stink of Jack.” Ennis knew that the clothes were the closest he and Jack would ever get to being together like they were on Brokeback.
The blood on their shirts is symbolic of their unity and their love for one another. It is from the end of their time on Brokeback Mountain, where they fought each other, and retained blood on each of their articles of clothing. Blood also represents the core of human life and emotions and without it humans will die, and the blood gives life to the shirt and jacket, which made the clothing even more personal and solidified the bond between the lovers even further. In addition, the blood was primarily on both Men’s sleeves, which gives truth to the saying that a man is emotional if he wears his heart out on his sleeve, and these men each had the other ones blood on their sleeves. This makes the blood the symbol of each of the men’s hearts, who was in the hands of the other, which made Jacks demise even more difficult for Ennis. When Jack made the decision to try to pursue Ennis even though he was married, it became clear that he wanted Ennis’s love and was going to be careful with Ennis’s heart and emotions. However, Ennis made the decision to forgo his feelings, and decline Jack, which effectively crushed Jack’s heart leading to his death. The blood on the sleeve also symbolizes the intense guilt that Ennis feels for Jack’s murder, because if Ennis had chosen to be with him Jack might have still been alive.
The shirts in Brokeback Mountain were some of the strongest representations of the emotions and the underlying thoughts of the main characters. The clothes placement in the back of the closet, arrangement of the shirt and the jacket and the blood on both of the sleeves all align to create an intense source of symbolism and sub textual meaning for the story. Jack and Ennis’s relationship in its entirety was displayed in Jack’s closet, and the shirts in Brokeback Mountain revealed a plethora of subtext that was previously undiscovered.