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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What is the tone and mood of "By The Waters of Babylon"?

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It has almost a fable-like mood to it, like someone is telling a tale or a story to small children around the kindergarten rug.  Simple language is used, which is consistent with the tribe-like nature of the culture that John lives in, but that very quality makes it seem like a child's tale.  The subject matter-mystical rituals of a tribe, spirit walks, magical references, forbidden places-is also a lot like a child's tale.  For example, when Johns father gives instructions, he says,

"It is forbidden to travel east. It is forbidden to cross the river. It is forbidden to go to the Place of the Gods. All these things are forbidden."

This mentioning of forbidden places adds to the fairy-tale tone.  The mood is also reflective and calm.  There is no direct action related, so it seems almost passive in its telling, like John is telling it years in the future.  For example, in relating his experience with the panther, instead of describing it like it is happening right then, full of action and suspense, John muses,

"It is not easy to kill a panther with one arrow but the arrow went through his eye and into his brain. He died as he tried to spring."

So instead of relating all of the terrifying details, John ponders it from afar as he tells the story.  That makes the mood and tone very calm.  I imagine an old indian chief sitting around a fire telling the story to his grandchildren-it has that same serenity and magical feeling to its tone.

Those are just a few ideas, and I hope that they help.

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