The inciting incident to a piece of literature is the event that essentially begins the story. This is an incident where we find out what the problem in the story will be. In “By the Waters of Babylon,” the inciting incident comes when John tells his father that he has become a man and that it is time for him to go on his journey.
Before John does this, there is nothing really happening in this story. We are being introduced to the general environment of the story. We are told about some of the beliefs of John’s people. We are told of the differences between them and the Forest People. We are told that something happened in the past, creating the “dead places.” But we do not know what the story will really be about.
Then the inciting incident occurs. We are told that John is going to go on a journey because he is now a man. This tells us, more or less, what the story is going to be about. We know that John is going to go on a journey and we can assume that he will face various hardships along the journey. We do not know the details of the problems that he will face, but we generally know what the story will be about.
Therefore, the inciting incident is when John says (as the narrator)
When I was a man at last, I came to my father and said, "It is time for me to go on my journey. Give me your leave."