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

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What are John's special differences in "By the Waters of Babylon"?  

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John can touch metal without getting hurt and has a vision about the gods.

John’s father is a priest.  He tests whether his son will also be a priest by going into one of the Dead Places and finding a piece of metal to bring to John.  If John is able to touch it, he will be a priest too.

He gave me the metal to hold—I took it and did not die. So he knew that I was truly his son and would be a priest in my time.

John is also special because he does not fear the Dead Places.  He actually has a vision that takes him to the land of the Gods, which turns out to be New York.  John’s people are a post-apocalyptic society that is not very advanced.  They fear New York and the Dead Places.  It takes John’s special vision and determination to find out the truth.

John has a dream about the gods, who supposedly inhabit the Dead Places.  His father questions him about the dream, saying it might eat him up.  John’s dream seems to be about the past.

He asked me how the gods were dressed and I told him how they were dressed. We know how they were dressed from the book, but I saw them as if they were before me. When I had finished, he threw the sticks three times and studied them as they fell.

Since John has the special gift, and has visions, he is able to go on a sort of vision quest to newyork, the land of the gods.  Once there, he is intelligent enough to realize that he is not seeing dead gods.  He is seeing dead people.  The people were never gods; they are ancestors.

John’s destiny is to bring back this knowledge to his people so that they can move forward with the understanding of the people who lived before them.  If John’s people can avoid being afraid of the technology and learn what happened, then they can move beyond their fear of the past.

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