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By the Waters of Babylon

by Stephen Vincent Benét

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What is the setting of "By the Waters of Babylon" by Stephen Vincent Benét?

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"By the Waters of Babylon" has two settings. The entire story takes place in the future, after a nuclear holocaust has destroyed the advanced technological civilization of people like us.

The story's action begins, after some background, with John, the priest's son, outside of his village, fasting on a flat rock. He lives close to nature, apparently much like a Native American in centuries gone by. He takes an eight-day journey through the wilderness to arrive at what he calls the Place of the Gods.

The Place of the Gods is the other setting of the story. It becomes evident to the reader that this is what used to be New York City. John marvels at what he sees there: tall towers, a broken statue of George Washington, paintings, a cooking place but no wood, lamps but no wicks.

John realizes that the people who built the city were not gods, but humans. He goes back to his village determined to learn more about this lost civilization.

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"By the Waters of Babylon" is set sometime in the future. The date is never specified, but it has to be a long time in the future. During the story, readers will learn about a "Great Burning" that happened. We also learn that at some point before the story begins, simply touching metal meant certain death. A cataclysmic nuclear disaster or war would explain a great burning. Metal that is full of harmful radiation would have the power to kill as well. The story takes place far enough into the future where that harmful radiation is gone. Additionally, nobody remembers exactly what the Great Burning was. Nobody remembers huge cities of people. A lot of time has passed.  

As for a physical location, the story begins just west of present day New York City. Readers are told John travels east for eight days before finally seeing the Place of the Gods (New York). John explores the former New York City for a bit and then returns to his village.

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

For the setting of "By the Waters of Babylon," you will have to give generalized details, not specifics, because no specifics are given in the text at all.  We can narrow it down to a pretty precise location, but not time period.

For a time period, all that we know is that it is set in the distant future.  Given that the story gives clues that suggest a nuclear bomb wiped out most of civilization, it had to be after the 1940's, when nukes were first developed and tested.  Then, mankind is practically wiped out in the wake of those bombs, and at least several generations later, the story begins.  John and his father don't remember first-hand what happened in the "great burning," so it is at least 50 years afterwards, and maybe longer, since John's tribes are large and well-established in their traditions.

For the actual location, we can take clues from the city of the Gods.  He passes by a statue that says "Ashing," which we can infer was a statue of Washington.  Also, there are large skyscrapers, subway systems, and large highways and streets.  There is a river too. It is probably in Washington D.C. where many national monuments are kept, like statues of Washington, and where rivers and large cities are housed.  So that is what we can get for the actual location.

I hope that those thoughts helped a bit; good luck!

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What is the setting of By the Waters of Babylon?

The setting for the story is in the home and environment of a middle class family in the UK, where Paul, the young son, is the one who begins to show an ability to take care of the family by winning huge sums of money at the horse track.

The setting moves between the home of the family as well as the horse track and other places in the city, but mostly focusing on the two.  One of the most important things about the setting is the strain that the family feels in order to keep up the appearance of their station which is really higher than the parents' income allows.  It is this strain that drives the conflict and is really the underlying theme of the story.

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What is the setting of By the Waters of Babylon?

The setting is actually very closely related to the point of view of the story. Remember this is written in the first person point of view, and thus we only know what the narrator knows. It is clear that at the start of the story we are in some kind of stone age world. The narrator talks about a community that has to hunt, and a world that is full of taboos - not how many times the phrase "It is forbidden" is repeated in the first pages. The reference to spirits and purification and laws all seem to reinforce that the setting is a primeval civilisation where people are governed by supersition.

However, as the story develops, we begin to realise that the setting itself is very different - we are in a post-nuclear disaster world where civilisation as we know it today has been completely destroyed. Thus we recognise what John does not - highways, skyscrapers, statues of George Washington. This point of view serves to emphasise the dangers of nuclear disaster. The author presents us with a world that regressed back to stone age times and where all advances of civilisation have been completely forgotten.

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What is the setting of By the Waters of Babylon?

The novel is set during a future nuclear war, although for contemporary audiences it would probably feel more like a past nuclear war, since it is based on WWII. During this war, a group of boys is evacuated from England to Australia. Their plane crashes somewhere along the way. The fact that all adults on board have been killed, in addition to the war that has driven the boys from their homeland, creates a setting in which the children have no to rely upon but themselves.

The island on which they crash is tropical. There are continual references to "the jungle", and the plants are described as "vines and creepers". A basic description is:

roughly boat-shaped: humped near this end with behind them the jumbled descent to the shore. On either side rocks, cliffs, treetops and a steep slope: forward there, the length of the boat, a tamer descent, tree-clad, with hints of pink: then the jungly flat of the island, dense green, but drawn at the end to a pink tail. There, where the island petered out in water, was another island; a rock, almost detached, standing like a fort, facing them across the green with one bold, pink bastion.

Wild pigs live there as well, and they constitute a major portion of the boys' diet later in the book. The island remains unnamed, but there is a question as to whether it has been previously discovered and charted or not. Ralph claims it has, but his father is in the Royal Navy, & he may just speaking from pride. The ship that rescues them is drawn by their smoke, not any other knowledge of the island, so there is a suggestion that they could have remained unfound.

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