In "By the Waters of Babylon," what does Benet count on his readers bringing, and what reading skills do we need to appreciate the story?
In "By the Waters of Babylon," Stephen Vincent Benet counts on the audience being intelligent enough to figure out what has happened to the city of the gods, and to recognize the fragments of ruined civilization that John comes across on his journey.
As the story starts, Benet describes poisoned metal that his tribe is not allowed to touch; he also describes "the Great Burning" years ago, and the ruined city of the gods. From this, Benet counts on the readers being able to infer that there was some sort of massive destruction that occurred, involving radiation that resides in the materials left over. Later, as John approaches the city of the gods, and describes ruined statues, ruined subways, canned foods and boxed goods, appliances, etc., we can figure out what each of those items are, based on the clues that John gives. He is describing the world that we are living in, so he counts on us bringing that knowledge to the table and putting the pieces together.
For reading strategies, we must infer, which is to guess things based on clues given in the text--you spend a lot of the story picking up on clues and filling in the blanks. Inference is on reading strategy; another is connections. As you read, you make personal connections to your life--we can relate to the world that John describes. Prediction is another reading strategy--as we read the story, we predict what has happened to the society. All of these strategies help us to appreciate an insider's view on the back-story behind the tale.
I hope that those thoughts help! Good luck!