By the Waters of Babylon

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Name: _________________________________ Date: _______________ English 10CP, Period ____
By the Waters of Babylon” Study Guide Questions
Directions: Complete the following questions on this worksheet. You may use the back if you need more space.

  1. “We live in an age of advanced technology beyond the understanding of most of us.” Do you agree with this statement? Is it possible that technology has advanced beyond human control? Explain why you believe this statement to be/not be true.

  1. Setting: Using paragraph one of the story, describe the society portrayed by the author. Also, identify WHERE the narrator lives.

  1. In which direction is it forbidden to travel? Why?

  1. Why does the author use a priest and the son of a priest to tell his story?

  1. What does the narrator tell about the Place of the Gods?

  1. What do these beliefs suggest about the narrator’s society?

  1. Point of View: Why does the author use first person point of view in this story?

  1. Why is it that only priests can touch the metal?

  1. What does it mean that John can touch it?

  1. Theme: Living in a society with limited understanding, the narrator yearns for and values _______________________.

  1. What does John’s father tell him about his dream? What do these words reveal about the reason it is forbidden to travel east?

  2. What does the narrator do as he leaves on his journey? What can we infer about the narrator’s attitude about his journey?

  1. Why does John’s father send him off on his own? What is a Rite of Passage?

  1. Metaphor: By contrasting the physical pain of the purification ceremony with his spirit (a cool stone), the author conveys the narrator’s strength of spirit and courage, as well as his figurative way of looking at the world. Explain how he views the world.

  1. Conflict: What does the author portray by contrasting the narrator’s straightforward gaze with his shaky voice?

  1. Conflict: Uneasy about going east, the narrator is reassured when he does/sees what?

  1. After he gives the name of the great river, what does the narrator say about it? If this is the case, how do you think he may have learned about the great river?

  1. Personification: Comparing the river to a hungry giant conveys the narrator’s feelings about, and his society’s feelings about, the power of what?

  1. What is the reason that the narrator can never be at peace with his spirit if he does not go to the Place of the Gods? What qualities does this explanation show that the narrator possesses?

  1. Conflict: “It is better to lose one’s life than one’s spirit, if one is a priest or the son of a priest.” The narrator’s inner conflict becomes a choice between risking physical death and _____________________________________________________________________________.

  1. Setting: Benet conveys the Place of the Gods as being a ____________________ place, as seen in the sunset.

  1. Analyze John’s song. In his death song, he reviews what in chronological order?

  1. Personification: Benet further personifies the river in order to show us what?

  1. Setting: John finally reaches the Place of the Gods, and describes it in clear, unadorned language. Why? Explain what he sees and learns.

  1. When John feels alone, he tries to think about his knowledge, but it does not bring him comfort. Why is his knowledge unable to help him?

  2. Compare the legends and the priest’s stories about the Place of the Gods. Why do you think such different stories arose?

  1. Setting: What do the carved stones, the columns, and the lettering indicate about the inhabitants of the Great Place? How is John’s incredulity emphasized? (Through what sentence or sentences?)

  1. What kinds of animals does John see? Why do you think animals are there but there is no sign of the gods?

  1. Foreshadowing & Conflict: John’s reference to the wild dogs hints that they will pose as a what to him?

  1. Characterization: What three characteristics does John reveal about himself as he finds a door to close against the wild dogs’ attack?

  1. Theme: John’s reverence for knowledge causes him to appreciate what?

  1. Conflicts: John faces two conflicts here: one is the external danger of the wild dogs, the other is his inner conflict between superstitious fear and a wish for knowledge. Explain his inner conflict.

  1. What does John describe in the apartment? What do you think these objects are?

  1. How does John explain his ability to see the city at night? How do you think John is able to see the life of the past?

  1. Setting, Theme, & Imagery: Through John’s wondering eyes and troubled ears, the reader shares in the sights and sounds of the city before its destruction. John’s visions of the incredible nighttime activities leads him to an understanding of the level of knowledge possessed by its former inhabitants. What is it that John cannot understand about the gods who had so much wisdom and knowledge? What do you think Benet is telling the reader about wisdom and knowledge?

  1. Characterization: John’s description of the “poor gods” shows by indirect characterization, his growing sensitivity and compassion for whom?

  1. Theme: John, who seeks and values knowledge, cannot comprehend its limitations; he feels sure that knowledge can prevent what?

  2. Plot – Climax: The climax of the story occurs when John realizes what?

  1. Theme: With wisdom perhaps greater than that of the destroyed civilization, John’s father warns about the dangers of knowledge that a society cannot control. Explain what he means. Is he right?

  1. John says, many times throughout the story, “how can I tell you what I see?” Explain why and how he cannot. Hint: there are three reasons 

Part II: Extracting Difficult Material

This selection can be read as a “guessing” game. You will have to recognize ordinary objects described by someone with very little knowledge of what they are or what they are called. Identify as many items in the list below as you can. In Column A notice the terms given, these are the narrator’s terminology; in Column B, list the current terminology. For example, the name of the Hudson River is disguised as “Ou-dis-sun” and the sea is called the “Bitter Water.”

Column A: Narrator’s Terminology

Column B: Current Terminology

Great Burning

Great Dead Places

Eight suns

Great river



Hudson River

Place of the Gods

Old Writings

Too big to be houses

God-roads across the river

Fire fell from the sky

Great spike of rusted metal sticking out of the river

High towers of the gods

A fair island



Shattered Image

Carved stones with magical numbers and words

Enchanted boxes and jars

Great temple with roof painted like the sky

Caves and Tunnels

Fruits from jars

Drink that made his head swim

Towers high enough, but not so high

Strong door, many stairs

Bronze door with no handles


Coverings on the floors

Column A: Narrator’s Terminology

Column B: Current Terminology

Chairs soft and deep

Picture of a bunch of flowers

Figure of a bird in hard clay

Washing place with no water

Cooking place with no wood

Lamps with no wicks

“Hot” and “Cold”

Place to make fire

Night, but not dark



Turned night into day

Mist that poisoned

The destruction

Poison still in the ground

Flew in the air

All the magic they had

Dead god

Magic tools are broken


Gods – Lincoln, Biltmore, Moses

Hill people

Unbelievable tools

Big room looking over the city


Bitter water

the Sea

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