Published in 1951 in a post-nuclear world, this short story by Arthur C. Clarke takes its title from a portion of Psalm 137, which laments the destruction of Jerusalem in 597 B.C. Much like Jerusalem, which was overrun and destroyed by the Babylonians, the actions of nuclear war have destroyed the Earth in this story, leaving 10-year-old Marvin and a small band of other humans to look on the ruins of Earth from their small colony on the moon. Clarke, a scientist himself, creatively utilizes the science fiction genre to paint a horrifying picture of what the potential destructiveness of advancements in war and weaponry could do to humanity’s future.
At the time of this story’s publication, it was not an idea that was very far out of the realm of reality, with the rising tensions between the world’s two greatest superpowers creating a stressful stand-off known as the Cold War. While the Cold War did not leave the world in a glow of dying atoms, this story still serves as a warning to readers that our existence is fragile, and those countries with nuclear weapons hold a great responsibility in their hands: the future of life on planet Earth. This is a great short story for high school students to analyze.
Share these important facts with your students to help them connect with some of the important concepts before reading the story.
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