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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
An analysis of the short story "The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin.

Submitted: November 05, 2011

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Submitted: November 05, 2011



Have you ever faced a hard, unfair, or depressing circumstance, such as having to be ejected into space? In the story “The Cold Equations” the teenage girl Marilyn has to face a very difficult situation. She was faced with a death she did not deserve. All she wanted was to see her brother, and hiding on an EDS (Emergency Dispatch Ship) seemed like a good idea, but never would she have guessed that this choice would mean death. Life has surprises, and many are unwelcome, terrifying, or depressing. Imagine, you go out to eat one day for lunch, and then, for the next 5 days, you have horrible food poisoning. You cannot change the fact that you have food poisoning, being angry and upset does not help, all you can do is accept and deal with it. “The Cold Equations,” a short story written by Tom Godwin, easily involves the reader’s emotions and shows the importance of acceptance with its unfair and tragic plot, applicable theme, important point of view, characters that seem real, and abundant amount of symbols.

First, one way “The Cold Equations” involves the emotions is with its depressing plot. It begins and ends with unfair tragedy, and shows the importance of simply accepting an outcome, no matter how awful it is. Throughout the story events that call for emotion occur, and the reader can easily be taken in. The tale begins when Barton, an EDS pilot, discovers that there is a stowaway on his ship, and, according to regulations, all stowaways must be ejected into space. The story gets complicated as the stowaway is found to be a girl. The conflict is one of the factors that makes the story depressing. “‘What did he mean, to go through with it? To jettison me...What did he mean- what did he really mean?’” (Godwin 14). Marilyn has internal conflict, because she has to be ejected out into space, and she is not prepared for that, it scares and distresses her greatly. The story’s rising action adds to the feeling of unfairness and the necessity for acceptance. An example of how it does this is when Barton has to explain the situation. “He hesitated, wondering how he could explain it to her so she would...not feel she had somehow been the victim of a reasonless cruel injustice,” (Godwin 18). Nobody can do anything to save Marilyn from her fate. Barton has to make her understand that it is not anyone’s fault, no one is against her; she must accept her death and prepare herself. The climax is reached as Marilyn says that she has prepared herself and enters the airlock. The falling action and resolution are just as moving as the rest of the story. “There was a slight waver of the ship as the air gushed from the lock...he was alone on the ship,” (Godwin 27). Barton ejects Marilyn out into space, remembering her and thinking about how unfeeling life is. The plot of “The Cold Equations” is depressing and thought-provoking.

Second, the meaningful theme of this short story calls for the use of emotions and leaves the reader thinking. It can be applied to anyone’s life, though most people will not have to jettison someone into space. The theme can be concluded to be that life happens, and the laws of nature cannot be changed, they are unfeeling; we are faced with many choices that we do not get to make, and we just have to chose to accept them or not. The rising action on pages 19-21 helps tell the reader the theme. “Existence required order, and there was order; the laws of nature, irrevocable and immutable. Men could learn to use them, but men could not change them,” (Godwin 20). Here, Barton reflects on how the laws of nature and equations of life give the necessary order to life, and they cannot be changed, they can only be maintained and adapted to. In this story, Marilyn (and Barton) have to accept and go through with choices that they cannot change. This theme can be applied to most everyone’s life, drawing out people’s emotions, as everyone faces these types of choices.

Third, the third person limited point of view that “The Cold Equations” is set in allows for Barton to be interpreted in a kinder way, making the story even more sad, as there is no mean, horrible character to blame everything on. By giving us a character’s thoughts, their real feelings can be known. A person’s outward display of themselves does not always show their true personality. An example can be found on page 15. “She was only eighteen. ‘Height, five-three. Weight, a hundred and ten.’ Such a slight weight, yet enough to add fatally to the mass of the shell-thin bubble that was an EDS.” We know Barton’s thoughts throughout the story, but not Marilyn’s. If we were able to know just Marilyn’s thoughts, a different impression of Barton- a harsher, meaner, more uncaring impression- would be given. He would be thought of as the guy that threw a young, unknowing girl into the black abyss of space. But, because we know his thoughts, we know his inner conflict and how he feels, and he can be interpreted as a sympathetic man. The point of view of this tale affects character interpretation and this makes the story even more sad.
Fourth, another way that “The Cold Equations” involves the reader’s emotions is through the characterization of Marilyn, you can almost see her. One way she is described is through her appearance. “The stowaway was not a man- she was a girl in her teens, standing before him in little white gypsy sandals, with the top of her brown, curly head hardly higher than his shoulder, with a faint, sweet scent of perfume coming from her, and her smiling face tilted up so her eyes could look unknowing and unafraid into his as she waited for his answer,” (Godwin 11). Through this description we see a young girl, innocent and unknowing of what is going to happen to her. This makes her loss much more tragic and emotional than it would have been if she were hardly described, she becomes someone that the reader can become attached to. A character that you can almost touch is harder to let go of than one that you barely know. Because the characterization in this short story is vivid, the reader feels more depressed as the end is reached.

Fifth, there are many symbols in “The Cold Equations,” which add to the sadness of the story, as they allow for connections and comparisons between this story and other tales or situations. Colors and physical objects are used as symbols throughout the story. One symbol is the planet Woden. “The Stardust had received the request from one of the exploration parties stationed on Woden...,” (Godwin 10). Odin, in Norse mythology, is the god of death and war. This planet has a very similar name, and it symbolizes the Norse god and therefore, death: planet death. Another symbol is the tornado that sweeps through the exploration party’s camp. On page 10 it is first described, “...their own supply of serum destroyed by the tornado...” The tornado that destroys the serum could represent the “cold equation” that destroys Marilyn’s life. The tornado did not have an evil scheme in mind, it had no mind, it just followed the laws of nature, as did the equation. In this short story, symbols are used so that the reader can connect and compare this tragic and emotional tale to other circumstances.

To conclude, Tom Godwin’s short story, “The Cold Equations,” involves the emotions and explains the importance of acceptance of unfair circumstances with its depressing plot, meaningful theme, story-changing point of view, realistic characters, and symbolic symbols. First, the plot of this story begins with a sadness and points out how necessary it is to just accept difficult decisions and not fight them. Second, the theme of “The Cold Equations” can be applied to the lives of many people and leaves the reader thinking. Third, the point of view affects how the character Barton is interpreted. Fourth, the descriptions of the characters make them seem like they are real. Last, but not least, the many symbols allow you to compare and connect this tale to other circumstances and stories. When you struggle with going through with a hard or undeserved situation, instead of fighting the inevitable, try acceptance and perseverance, as Marilyn did, no matter how depressing that choice is.

Work Cited

Godwin, Tom. “The Cold Equations.” Elements of Literature: Fourth Course. Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2000.

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