How do Marilyn and outer space compare and contrast in Tom Godwin's short story "The Cold Equations"?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his short story "The Cold Equations," Tom Godwin personifies outer space and forces within outer space several times. As a character, outer space is much more of a character foil to the stowaway Marilyn, meaning the exact opposite of her. There is at least one similarity between Marilyn and space, though, as well as many differences.

One similarity is that both Marilyn and outer space can be considered unpredictable. Marilyn displays her unpredictability by impulsively making the decision to stow away on the EDS in hopes of seeing her brother sooner than a year. Similarly, though outer space is governed by the laws of nature, those very laws can wreak unpredictable havoc, just as the tornado within outer space, on the planet Woden, wreaked havoc on Group One's camp, the group Barton has been sent to deliver emergency medicine to. The narrator notes the tornado struck "without warning—a thundering, roaring destruction that sought to annihilate all that lay before it." Yet, it had "destroyed with neither malice nor intent. It had been a blind and mindless force, obeying the laws of nature." Since this tornado is an element found in outer space, we can consider the tornado to be an illustration of outer space's ability to destroy unpredictably. Similarly, Marilyn makes a decision that has a very destructive force and hurts those she loves. Her decision costs her her life, which hurts those she loves, who will grieve her loss. Yet, like the tornado, she did not intend to hurt any one. She was only blindly following her instincts and now must pay consequences governed by the laws of nature.

In contrast to outer space, Marilyn is a deeply feeling person, which is why there are many more differences between Marilyn and outer space than there are similarities. As a deeply feeling human being, she is horrified to learn she has to die because of her actions and feels terrified of death. More importantly, she feels ashamed because she knows she is hurting the ones she loves, a thought that crushes her until her brother is able to assure her that her family will make it just fine without her.