Home and Leaving Home
Both Ennis and Jack make frequent references to their parents and childhoods, and the opening description of the men’s respective birthplaces suggests the significance of home and leaving home to the story. To “know where you are from” is to be of like mind with your family, kin, and community. Jack, a wandering soul who moves away from home and then out of state, is condemned by his father for wanting to be buried on Brokeback rather than in ancestral ground. Jack’s desire to get away from home—in the sense of escaping its conventional values—is ultimately what gets him killed. Ennis, on the other hand, is mindful of his father’s homophobia and being taken by him to see the dead body of a murdered gay rancher. He frequently professes his inability to break away from his home and upbringing. Home evokes safety, conservatism, status quo, and acceptance, whereas distance from home in this story becomes associated with progressiveness and risk.
Despite Ennis’s declaration that “All the travelin I ever done is goin around the coffeepot lookin for the handle,” traveling away from home proves influential to both Ennis and Jack, even if their travel covers little actual distance. If staying home is synonymous with stasis, permanence, and conventional thinking, then traveling away from home is an escape from all of that. Jack makes many trips to Mexico, a place that represents the gratification of his sexual desires, a place freer and more accepting than the rural plains of the American West that Jack calls home. When Ennis asks Jack what other people in their situation do, Jack cites travel as a solution: “It don’t happen in Wyomin and if it does I don’t know what they do, maybe go to Denver,” he says. Just as the notion of home as tradition and continuity is a constant refrain in the story, the idea of leaving home and traveling marks the distance between an old-fashioned way of thinking and a forward-thinking mindset.