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

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What is the purpose of "By the Waters of Babylon?"

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The purpose of "By the Waters of Babylon" is to highlight the nature of human ambition and the inevitable conflict it engenders. 

In the story, John is taught that he must honor the laws of his tribe. One of the laws states that the Place of the Gods is strictly forbidden to him. Yet, after John makes a first visit to the Dead Places with his father (a priest), he becomes emboldened to explore previously forbidden regions. His resolve is aided by the fact that he was not hurt by the metal his father found in one of the Dead houses.

John's ambitions are also fueled by his pride in his heritage. The text tells us that John is especially proud of the fact that his people are "not ignorant like the Forest People" and that they "do not eat grubs from the trees." His hunger barely satiated by his forays into the Dead Places, John begins to harbor ambitions of seeing the Place of the Gods. His father warns him against his hubris , but John is adamant. He determines that, as the son of a priest...

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