By the Waters of Babylon


Resource Pack for: By the Waters of Babylon by Stephen Vincent Benet (1937)

Created by Zara Parsons


Science fiction is often used to reflect upon the possibilities of our own realities. It can serve both as a warning and as inspiration for our future.

Stephen Vincent Benet grew up moving around America, living at different military bases as his father was in the army. This meant he saw a lot of America and had a great appreciation for its culture. When he grew up, he lived in New York and realised he did not like the type of lifestyle that people were living there. He didn’t like their ethics or culture. In the late thirties he also began to be interested in the political events that eventually led to World War Two. So, it was with this belief in preserving what was good about his society while warning of the possible paths war and pride could take mankind down that Benet published his short story, By the Waters of Babylon in 1937.

By the Waters of Babylon is a post-apocalyptic science-fiction short story, not Benet’s normal genre. It explores a world in the future where humanities pride and over-confidence has led to a terrible event happening. When we read it today, we are able to use our hindsight to see just how valid the messages of warning Benet included in this story were.