In "By the Waters of Babylon," how does the first-person point of view affect what the reader knows about John and about events in the story?

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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When a story is told from a first-person point of view, the reader knows only what the narrator tells him, and the narrator's view is always a limited one. The narrator can recount only what he or she has heard or experienced directly. In this story, John is a young man who explains the history of his people, describes places, and recounts the events of the story in his own language and in the context of what he understands. As readers, we experience his journey as he experiences it.

The power of the story lies in the contrast between what John understands and our growing awareness of what has happened and what is happening. As the story develops, we slowly realize that John and his people live in the Northeast United States and that his journey takes him to New York City. In the story's shocking and sad conclusion, we understand that civilization has been destroyed by a terrible war; there are strong suggestions in the story of an atomic war that left the city contaminated with radiation for generations. In learning what had happened, we realize the significance of what John has told us about his people and their way of life.