A Long Walk to Water Themes, Motifs, Symbols

Linda Sue Park

A Long Walk to Water

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A Long Walk to Water Themes, Motifs, Symbols

The two most import symbols/motifs in the novel are water and walking. These are first seen in the title A Long Walk to Water. Both can be understood in many ways. First, Nya walks a very long way every day to bring water that is impure to her family. Second, Salva’s whole adolescent and young adult life are really a walk toward the water that he will bring his people through building wells.

Other instances of water play a part in the book as well. The lake where Nya plunges her arms into the mud in an attempt to bring water to the surface, no matter how muddy, and the bodies of water that Salva encounters as he journeys trying to escape the war. First, the Nile. Salva says his father is wealthy, and he is accustomed to good food, but he is amazed at the bounty of the Nile-the spread people living on the island feast on. The Nile has always been the source of life with its water overflowing its banks each year fertilizing the Nile delta. The body is at least fifty to sixty percent water, and the Nile, along with the ocean, is one of the great symbols of life and birth.

Then there is the lake Salva and his friends are forced into crossing. In this instance, the water yields treachery in how the alligators eat many of the people trying to swim. Though water yields life, it can also bring violent death. The contaminated water Nya’s little sister and Salva’s father drink bring violent, almost fatal illness. Finally, pure water is the gift Salva brings his people—regardless of tribe.

Walking is a metaphor for journeying. For Nya, the greater part of her day, every day, and therefore life is spent journeying to get water for her family. Now that her village has a well, that walk will cease, and she can spend her time on something more productive—in this case, education that her father promises.

For Salva too, his walking/wandering finally comes to a pause. His dream of education begins in Rochester, New York with his foster…

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