By the Waters of Babylon Questions and Answers
by Stephen Vincent Benét

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In "By the Waters of Babylon" what does John tell readers about the Forest People?

In "By the Waters of Babylon," John, of the Hill People, notes that his community is slightly more advanced than the Forest People. The Forest People, unlike the Hill People, eat grubs, have lost their literacy skills, and don't spin wool. We also learn that the Hill People and Forest People are enemies who sometimes kill each other. Both groups are the remnants of our civilization, which destroyed itself in a nuclear war.

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John uses the Forest People as a standard by which to judge his own group, the Hill People. While humanity seems to have become more primal since the nuclear holocaust that wiped out civilization, there are differences between communities, of which John is well aware.

The Forest People eat grubs, which the Hill people do not. They do not spin wool on a wheel as his people do, and their priests do not wear special white robes. They also have lost the literacy skills that John's people, to some extent, retain. John also contrasts himself to the Forest People by saying they are afraid of the Dead Places, which he is not.

While John contrasts his people favorably to the Forest People, it is also clear that his own culture is not much more advanced. For example, John assumes it is "strong magic" that protects him from being seen by the Forest People, and it is possible he believe the magic also safeguards him from being killed by them, when, as he notes, they could have easily done so.

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