How does Benet use setting in "By the Waters of Babylon" to create a mood of suspense and hold our interest?

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Kristen Lentz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In "By the Waters of Babylon," Benet's strong post-apocalyptic setting creates a mood of suspense for the readers.  The initial paragraph of the text is key, as are the opening lines of the story:

"The north and the west and the south are good hunting ground, but it is forbidden to go east.  It is forbidden to go to any of the Dead Places..."

The uncertainty of the opening paragraph, and Benet's carefully vague details and names keep the reader guessing.  Monikers like "Dead Places" and "Place of the Gods" adds to the suspense because of the narrator's own reverence for the places; just as John feels unsure and afraid of these locations, so does the reader.  Benet leaves huge gaps in John's details for the reader to guess and infer what has really happened, which also fuels the suspense of the story.  The reader cannot help but wonder why the land to the east is forbidden. 

"By the Waters of Babylon" is a master work of carefully elusive diction; Benet's creation of the 'forbidden' in relation to the setting poses an enormous question to the reader; the very nature of the 'forbidden' makes the reader want to uncover the truth even more.   Benet uses the intriguing setting in "By the Waters of Babylon" to create a mood that is both cautious and suspenseful.