A Long Walk to Water

Water Symbol Analysis

Water Symbol Icon

The central symbol of A Long Walk to Water is, unsurprisingly, water. The main characters in the book are desperate for water, and will go to great lengths to find it. Nya spends hours every day walking to and from a faraway pond, just so that her family can have enough water to survive. Similarly, Salva Dut is often in need of water during his long walk across Sudan. During his walk through the desert, he sees first-hand the consequences of not having enough water when he witnesses several men dying of thirst. In all, water symbolizes survival, and the difficulty of obtaining water shows the difficulty of survival in Sudan during the two periods depicted by the novel.

Water Quotes in A Long Walk to Water

The A Long Walk to Water quotes below all refer to the symbol of Water. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Survival Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt edition of A Long Walk to Water published in 2011.
Chapter 3 Quotes

Nya filled the container all the way to the top. Then she tied the gourd back in place and took the padded cloth doughnut from her pocket. The doughnut went on her head first, followed by the heavy container of water, which she would hold in place with one hand.

Related Characters: Nya
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 4 Quotes

Nya nodded. She picked up the plastic container and took Akeer by the hand. Home for just long enough to eat, Nya would now make her second trip to the pond. To the pond and back—to the pond and back—nearly a full day of walking altogether. This was Nya’s daily routine seven months of the year.

Related Characters: Nya, Akeer
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 7 Quotes

A trip like that would be very difficult for Akeer. Should they stay at the camp and let her rest so she might heal on her own? Or should they begin the long hard walk—and hope they reached help in time?

Related Characters: Akeer
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 8 Quotes

The water from the holes in the lakebed could be collected only in tiny amounts. If her mother tried to boil such a small amount, the pot would be dry long before they could count to two hundred.

Related Characters: Nya
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 9 Quotes

Salva looked at the hollow eyes and the cracked lips of the men lying on the hot sand, and his own mouth felt so dry that he nearly choked when he tried to swallow.
"If you give them your water, you will not have enough for yourself!" the same voice shouted. "It is useless-they will die, and you will die with them!"

Related Characters: Salva Dut
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 10 Quotes
Related Characters: Salva Dut
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 18 Quotes

In a few more days, the school would be finished. Nya and Dep and Akeer would all go to school, along with the other children. Next year there would be a marketplace where the villagers could sell and buy vegetables and chickens and other goods. There was even talk of a clinic someday—a medical clinic, so they wouldn’t have to walk so far to get help, as they had to when Akeer was ill.

Related Characters: Nya, Akeer
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Dinka and the Nuer were enemies—had been for hundreds of years.

“Why would a Dinka bring water to us?” she wondered aloud.

“I heard Uncle and Father talking about him,” Dep said. “He has drilled many wells for his own people. This year he decided to drill for the Nuer as well.”

Related Characters: Nya (speaker), Dep (speaker), Salva Dut
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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Water Symbol Timeline in A Long Walk to Water

The timeline below shows where the symbol Water appears in A Long Walk to Water. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Social Strife Theme Icon
...the desert. Many other people are gathered around the pond, scooping up the brown, muddy water. Nya drinks some water and feels cooler. She fills a gourd with more water, balances... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Social Strife Theme Icon
...two tribes argue over land, and try to claim the areas that have the most water. They’ve been fighting for centuries. (full context)
Social Strife Theme Icon
...point of doing chores for the woman, so that she won’t kick him out—he fetches water and firewood. In the distance, he can hear the sound of gunfire. (full context)
Social Strife Theme Icon
After four days, the woman tells Salva that it’s time for her to leave. The water is drying up, and winter is coming. Salva, she insists, can’t come with her—if he... (full context)
Chapter 4
Social Strife Theme Icon
Development Theme Icon
In 2008, Nya has returned to her mother, carrying water from the tiny pond. Her mother gives her food—“a bowl of boiled sorghum meal”—and then... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Social Strife Theme Icon
Development Theme Icon
...the men agrees to take him, explaining, “He is Dinka.” The elderly woman gives Salva water and peanuts and says goodbye. (full context)
Chapter 5
Social Strife Theme Icon
Development Theme Icon
...some of the year, Nya and her family move closer to the lake to access water. The water in the lake is muddy and unclean, but Nya’s family has no choice... (full context)
Chapter 6
Survival Theme Icon
...One day, the group walks for ten hours straight in the hopes of finding a water hole. However, they don’t find water. (full context)
Chapter 7
Survival Theme Icon
Social Strife Theme Icon
...they’re almost in Ethiopia. Jewiir assures Salva that they’ll all be able to cross the water. (full context)
Chapter 8
Survival Theme Icon
Social Strife Theme Icon
Development Theme Icon
...and smiling. The nurse tells Nya’s mother that Akeer got sick from drinking the dirty water in the pond. She advises Nya’s mother to boil the water before drinking it. The... (full context)
Chapter 9
Survival Theme Icon
Social Strife Theme Icon
Development Theme Icon
...why the visitors are here. However, Dep informs her that they’ve come to talk about water. (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Hope and Resilience Theme Icon
...like the longest of Salva’s life. The sun is hot, and he has very little water left. At one point, he slows down and nearly collapses. Uncle Jewiir uses Salva’s full... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Hope and Resilience Theme Icon
Social Strife Theme Icon
Development Theme Icon
...is dying of exhaustion and thirst. One of the women in Salva’s group pours some water in the men’s mouths. But another man yells, “If you give them your water, you... (full context)
Chapter 10
Survival Theme Icon
Development Theme Icon
...speaking a language Nya can’t understand. Then, they tell the chief that there should be water underneath the ground, at the point midway between the two biggest trees. Nya finds this... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Hope and Resilience Theme Icon
Development Theme Icon
...in the middle of the desert. Salva is tempted to share some of his own water with the men, but Jewiir prevents him from doing so—Salva is too young to give... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Social Strife Theme Icon
...on the verge of collapsing. Nobody has eaten anything in days, and there’s almost no water left. By afternoon, the group notices trees and puddles of water, but the water is... (full context)
Chapter 11
Survival Theme Icon
Development Theme Icon
...trips to the pond. She still doesn’t see why the villagers think they might find water beneath the dry earth between the two trees. (full context)
Chapter 13
Development Theme Icon
The year is 2009, and Nya’s village is still busy trying to draw water up from beneath the ground. The drilling crew has been moving very slowly, due to... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
...refugees rush to the river. Soldiers force some of the refugees to jump into the water, wanting to push them out of the country. Salva sees a crocodile attacking one man... (full context)
Chapter 14
Survival Theme Icon
Development Theme Icon
...full of the sound of drilling. After three full days of drilling, the workers locate water beneath the ground. The entire village cheers. However, Nya notices that the water is muddy. (full context)
Chapter 15
Survival Theme Icon
Social Strife Theme Icon
Development Theme Icon
In 2009, a well has just been completed in Nya’s village. Although the water is brown and murky, some of the younger children try to drink it right away—but... (full context)
Chapter 17
Survival Theme Icon
Hope and Resilience Theme Icon
Social Strife Theme Icon
Development Theme Icon
...tells her that the men are building a school. With the added convenience of clean water nearby, the village children—both boys and girls—will now have enough time to go to school.... (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Hope and Resilience Theme Icon
Social Strife Theme Icon
Development Theme Icon
...to America. Mawien Dut has been in the clinic for stomach surgery—years of drinking dirty water have given him a nasty infection, but now he’s ready to walk all the way... (full context)
Chapter 18
Development Theme Icon
...from the students of the Elm Street School in America. When Nya finally drinks some water, it tastes delicious: it’s cool and clear. (full context)
Survival Theme Icon
Hope and Resilience Theme Icon
Social Strife Theme Icon
Development Theme Icon
...notices the well operator, and shyly says hello to him. She thanks him for bringing water to her community, and tells him that her name is Nya. The man smiles and... (full context)