How is Barton's internal conflict resolved in Tom Godwin's short story "The Cold Equations"?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Tom Godwin's short story "The Cold Equations," the pilot Barton resolves his internal conflict by doing all he can to save Marilyn while also accepting the fact that one person must die to save the lives of many.

Barton's first step to resolve his internal conflict is contacting Commander Delhart on the Stardust. Commander Delhart gives Barton the answer he was expecting: The Stardust cannot turn around and retrieve Marilyn because doing so is too costly and will disrupt their scheduled stops, which could cost many colonists' lives and be very expensive. Commander Delhart orders Barton to go through with jettisoning Marilyn from the ship. Barton calculates, based on her weight, that if he reduces his deceleration speed to .10, he can keep her on-board and alive a bit longer. He gets permission from Commander Delhart to do so for 57 minutes. Barton's final step in doing what he can for Marilyn is permitting her to write goodbye letters to her family members and making contact with her brother on Woden to say goodbye. When asked by her brother if Barton did all he could to save her, Barton assures him he did, which shows he has resolved his internal conflict:

Yes—do you think I could ever let it happen if I wasn't sure? I did everything I could do. If there was anything at all I could do now, I would do it.

Barton knows the right thing to do and does it, showing he has resolved his internal conflict by the end of the story. That doesn't mean he does not still grieve for Marilyn. The final paragraph of the story depicts his grief by describing Marilyn's continued presence as her words echo through Barton's head: "I didn't do anything to die for. . . I didn't do anything."