Why is Barton shocked upon first discovering the identity of the stowaway 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," Barton is shocked upon discovering the stowaway is a young girl because most people exploring and colonizing outer space are men. Therefore, he expects the stowaway to be a man.

Having been first written and published in 1954, Godwin's short story still reflects the biased notion that the hardest work is done by men. Exploring and colonizing outer space are extremely dangerous jobs because the explorers and colonizers face many unknowns. In addition, the colonies on separate planets are so spread out that it becomes challenging to deliver emergency supplies and assistance to those in need, which further limits the chances of survival. Since most people working in outer space are men, Barton is very accustomed to the sight of men's deaths and accepts death as an inevitable consequence of being at the mercy of the laws of nature. He is even accustomed to associating many of the men in outer space with ulterior motives, such as criminals escaping justice or opportunists trying to "find golden fleece for the taking." As a result, he feels prepared to take the life of a male stowaway, but completely unprepared to take the life of a young, innocent, naive girl. Hence, Barton is shocked to find the stowaway is a girl because she stands in stark contrast to everything else he has experienced and witnessed in outer space.