man standing off to the side looking down at a marble bust of another man laying atop a pile of broken columns

By the Waters of Babylon

by Stephen Vincent Benét
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In "By the Waters of Babylon," what dose the number three and the color white symbolize?

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This section of this excellent short story comes when John, the protagonist of the tale, is seeking a sign to confirm that he should continue on his journey heading east. Because of his desire to gain a sign, he fasts and remains incredibly still, until he sees the following sign:

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This section of this excellent short story comes when John, the protagonist of the tale, is seeking a sign to confirm that he should continue on his journey heading east. Because of his desire to gain a sign, he fasts and remains incredibly still, until he sees the following sign:

Then three dear passed in the valley, going east--they did not wind me or see me. There was a white fawn with them--a very great sign.

Although the narrator does not go on to explain why the number three and the colour white are significant, we can infer that in this dystopian world some remnants of our civilisation have been passed down through the ages. For us in our civilisation the number three is symbolic of the trinity and divine completeness. Likewise we associate white with purity and innocence. We can assume that some of these symbolic meanings have reached John's civilisation, and that therefore from their perspective, the number three and the colour white have become good omens in the primeval world that they live in.

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