Find a place in the story where John achieves a breakthrough, and explain what he discovers.How does the first person point of view help you appreciate his discovery?

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The most significant breakthrough that John achieves in this story is the discovery that the "gods" were not actually gods, but mere men. This comes at the end of the story after John as seen his vision. He discovers a "dead god" that has been well preserved, who obviously sat and watched the destruction of John's dream that wiped out his people and his city. The discovery of this "dead god" causes John to reflect on human nature and wisdom:

But there was wisdom in his face and great sadness. You could see that he would have not run away. He had sat at his window, watching his city die - then he himself had died. But it is better to lose one's life than one's spirit - and you could see from the face that his spirit had not been lost. I knew that, if I touched him, he would fall into dust - and yet, there was something unconquered in the face.

John obviously feels some connection with this "dead god", for at this discovery he realises that the gods were not gods at all, but men like him. The paradox of the "dead god" - his physical fragility but also his enduring permanence with "something unconquered" in his face makes John reflect about knowledge and how these "gods" had brought about their own downfall. This allows him to reflect that "Perhaps, in the old days, they ate knowledge too fast", offering hope for the remnants of humanity that remain in this post-apocalyptic world.

The point of view supplied in this story is particularly appropriate because it allows us as readers to discover and find out facts along with John. We are presented with a tantalising selection of hints and scraps of information that we must weave together to form a truth - that the world of John is a world of the future, a future after mankind has all but wiped itself out by its scientific advances.

Read the study guide:
By the Waters of Babylon

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