A Long Walk to Water Themes
by Linda Sue Park

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A Long Walk to Water Themes

A Long Walk to Water tells the story of two Sudanese children whose childhood experiences are separated by 25 years. The first is that of 11-year-old Salva Dut, who has been separated from his family as a result of the Sudanese Civil War (a decades-long struggle between 1983 and 2005 which ended in the independence of South Sudan). As one of the so-called "Lost Boys of Sudan," he walks for miles every day in hopes of finding his family. The Lost Boys included tens of thousands of war refugees, who fled Sudan on foot to places such as Ethiopia and, eventually, to resettlement in the United States. Salva himself witnesses his fellow travelers die from animal attacks and dehydration. Salva eventually arrives in America and later starts a volunteer group, called Water for South Sudan, to build wells there.

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It is in this capacity (and not until the end of the narrative) that his story intersects with that of Nya, who is 11 years old in 2008. Even at this point, Nya is forced to walk eight hours daily (sometimes more than once) to fetch water from a pond for her family. By the end of the novel, a well is built near Nya's town, minimizing the distance the family needs to travel.

The themes of the novel include water and family.

Water

Water is a life force with both symbolic significance and practical value. Water is also deeply involved in the structuring of power. Access to water affords leisure time (of which Nya has little), which is a major factor in the development of infrastructure.

Identity and Family

Identity and family is another major theme. Nya feels a strong sense of obligation to her sister, Akeer, for whom she fetches water. Salva's desire to find his family compels his dangerous travels throughout the desert, and his sense of belonging to his home country inspires him to found the volunteer organization Water for South Sudan.