What can you infer about the Place of  the Gods and the events that took place there long ago in "By the Waters of Babylon" by Stephen Vincent Benet?

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Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Using the context clues provided by Benet throughout the text, the reader can conclude that the Place of the Gods was the once prosperous and busy New York City; this realization occurs slowly as Benet feeds the reader details to suggest the significance of the location, like:

"There was a great spike of rusted metal sticking out into the river."

John, the protagonist, views all of the Place of the Gods without any prior knowledge of its importance.  He sees the spike and describes it, but the reader infers that he may actually looking at the remnant of the headdress of the Statue of Liberty.   Benet provides many other details throughout John's journey to hint at and reinforce the reader's inference that the city is an old, burned-out American city. 

Moreover, John observes the evidence of war in the Place of the Gods, but does not understand the context: 

Here and there were the marks and stains of the Great Burning, on the ruins, that is true."

John's observations suggest that the city was destroyed by powerful fire, which now could easily be attributed to nuclear bombs, especially in the sense of the "marks and stains" which mirror the flashburns witnessed in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  It is important to note, however, that when Benet first published this story in 1937, that the nuclear bomb had not yet been invented.  Still, John's awed description of the ancient city's wounds reinforce the idea of destruction caused by powerful fire power or bombs.

John's fascination with the home of the Gods in which he takes refuge, which undoubtedly is an abandoned apartment building, reveals that the people long ago lived a comfortable lifestyle, surrounded by technology and innovation.  Benet's cautionary short story, "By the Waters of Babylon," delivers a powerful warning about society's easy dependence on technology and the possible devastating consequences revealed through John's journey into the Place of the Gods.

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By the Waters of Babylon

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