Tracy K. Smith's Pulitzer Prize winning collection of poetry, Life on Mars, has been celebrated and analyzed as an elegy to Smith's father by many reviewers and scholars. And while this reading is valid and has been openly endorsed by Smith herself, our understanding of this collection and Smith's father is incomplete without Smith's treatment of motherhood and religion, two previously unexplored fields in relation to Life on Mars that complete our picture of Smith's father. Smith uses her own new role as a mother and her religious questions about the afterlife and her father's fate to address her father's passing. This paper first discusses the previously hidden role of Smith's unborn daughter Naomi, specifically hearkening to poems in the fourth section of Life on Mars which describe Naomi's conception and the painful process of giving birth. This is followed by an analysis of Smith's father and mother and their interconnected relationship to both Smith and her child. The third section of this paper complicates Smith's more idyllic depictions of her family members with universal examples of violence, specifically violence towards women that can lead to unwanted motherhood like rape. The final section of this paper takes previous discussions of motherhood, parenthood, and violence to describe Smith's interest in the living and the dead and how the poems in Life on Mars tie together these disparate groups through the shared experience of loss and gain. This blurred boundary between life and death culminates in Smith's vision of the future, a future Earth which will be incomplete and "hollow" without children, just as Smith's past would be empty without her familial relationships. This link between the deceased and unborn makes Smith's imagined future meaningful and invites further scholarship on Life on Mars, asking for scholars previously interested in only Smith's father to include Smith's descriptions of motherhood and religion in their analysis of Smith's work.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Bingham, Mallory Lynn, ""Life will be a brief, hollow walk": The Future of Humanity Through Maternal Eyes in Tracy K. Smith's Life on Mars" (2020). Theses and Dissertations. 9338.
mother, father, motherhood, parents, parenthood, cosmos, outer space, Tracy K. Smith, Life on Mars, daughter, child, afterlife, future, religion, poetry, poems, violence, connection, link, family