Compare and contrast Marilyn and Gerry in "The Cold Equations."

Expert Answers
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The massive difference between these two characters lies in the way that Marilyn is innocent of the cold equations that make up the brutal and harsh world of interplanetary space travel and her brother is knowledgeable and experienced. This is shown in the short story when Marilyn says to Barton, after being discovered, "I’m guilty, so what happens to me now? Do I pay a fine, or what?" Her response to Barton and the way she thinks that the only punishment she will have to face will be paying a fine makes the reality of the situation so much more tragic, as she has to face the consquences of making a decision that will terminate her life forever. In contrast, Gerry has to exist within the cold equations that make up his reality. When He speaks to Marilyn, he knows exactly what her act of trying to stow away means:

Marilyn!” It was the cry of a man who calls, hopeless and desperate, to someone already and forever gone from him. “What have you done?”

For Gerry, there is no ambiguity whatsoever. He, like Barton, recognises that Marilyn has effectively signed her own death sentence. What is interesting to consider is the way in which Marilyn is able to accept and come to terms with these cold equations at the end of the story. It is not revealed whether Gerry is as haunted by his sister's death as Barton so obviously will be, but it is perhaps an assumption that can be made as the reader is forced to debate the legality of such a brutal system of law that cannot be changed for anybody--not even a girl like Marilyn.