What is the theme of "By the Waters of Babylon"?
The theme of the story is referred to in the title. "By the Waters of Babylon" is an allusion to the time when the Jewish nation, which thought of itself as a great nation, was defeated by the Babylonians and many Jews were captured and forced to relocate in Babylon itself. In addition, Babylon believed it, too, was a great and invincible nation. However, it was defeated by the Persians, who were then defeated by the Greeks. The author, Stephen Vincent Benet, is pointing to the fact that all great nations eventually fall. This could also be the fate of the United States. The key to the fall of 'The Place of the Gods" was the fact that they "ate knowledge too fast." In other words, their technology grew faster than their ability to control it. Since this story was written at eight years before the first atom bomb was dropped, Benet was obviously prophetic in his description of the possible means of the United States' destruction. thus, the story's theme is both a warning to learn from history and to be aware of the qualities in man that make him vulnerable to every increasing power and technology.