In addition to focusing on the physical realities of people struggling to survive—such as the need for water and shelter—A Long Walk to Water focuses on the psychological and emotional aspects of the struggle for survival. It’s not enough to have food and water, Park suggests. Rather, to survive in dangerous times, people need to want to survive, which requires finding a source of strength, determination, and hope.
In tough times, the book shows, hope can be as important as food and water, if not more so. First and foremost, Park dramatizes the importance of hope through the relationship between Salva Dut and his uncle Jewiir. Uncle Jewiir teaches Salva how to remain optimistic, even when it seems circumstances could not be any worse. In one of the most poignant scenes in the book, Salva collapses in the middle of the desert, overcome not only by hunger and thirst, but by despair. Jewiir compels Salva to keep moving, urging him to make progress by focusing on taking one step at a time. As Jewiir sees it, the key to holding onto hope is concentrating on concrete tasks instead of becoming overwhelmed by the enormity of the greater goal. If Salva were to stop and think about the magnitude of what he has to do—i.e., walk all the way into Ethiopia—he might give up. Instead, with Jewiir’s help, Salva concentrates on doing as much as he can, each moment. At the same time, Salva finds motivation in his desire to reunite with the rest of his family. Even after years of not seeing them, he continues to hope that they’re still alive. As A Long Walk to Water portrays it, hope is both idealistic and practical, universal and particular. Salva’s hopefulness keeps him focused on the long-term goals of surviving the civil war and reuniting with his family, but it also helps him concentrate on short-term necessities, like continuing to place one foot ahead of the other.
As the story goes on, Park shows that hope, in addition to being a powerful force for survival, can be passed on to other people. Just as Uncle Jewiir’s calm, cautiously optimistic leadership inspires Salva to stay strong, Salva’s hopefulness inspires other people. As a young man, Salva successfully leads over a thousand younger children to safety in Kenya. He takes inspiration from Uncle Jewiir by encouraging the children to concentrate on moving “one step at a time.” Later, when he moves to the United States, Salva’s hope leads to even more remarkable progress. Speaking in schools, universities, and churches, Salva inspires Americans to donate their time and money to improving the situation in Sudan. His actions—grounded in his confidence that Sudan can be made safer and better—result in hundreds of wells being built throughout the country, helping many thousands of Sudanese people. In this way, the book shows that hope isn’t just an emotion—but, on the contrary, it can make possible the enactment of real, tangible changes for the better.
Hope and Resilience ThemeTracker
Hope and Resilience Quotes in A Long Walk to Water
As Salva spoke, Uncle nodded or shook his head. His face became very solemn when Salva told him that he had not seen nor heard a single word of his family in all that time. Salva's voice trailed of, and he lowered his head. He was glad to see Uncle again, but it looked as if he might not be much help either.
Uncle was quiet for a moment. Then he patted Salva’s shoulder. "Eh, Nephew!" he said in a cheerful voice. "We are together now, so I will look after you!"
Soon he was crying so hard that he could hardly get his breath. He could not think; he could barely see. He had to slow down, and for the first rime on the long journey, he began to lag behind the group. Stumbling about blindly, he did not notice the group drawing farther and farther ahead of him.
As if by magic, Uncle was suddenly at his side.
Salva lifted his head, the sobs interrupted by surprise.
"Do you see that group of bushes?" Uncle said, pointing. "You need only to walk as far as those bushes.
He knows it will be hard for me, Salva realized. He does not want to leave me there, but he has to go back and fight for our people. I mustn’t act like a bay—I must try to be strong …
How can I go on without them?
But how can I not go on? They would want me to survive. . . to grow up and make something of my life, . . . to honor their memories.
What was it Uncle had said during that first terrible day in the desert? "Do you see that group of bushes? You need only to walk as far as those bushes . . .”
Uncle had helped him get through the desert that way, bit by bit, one step at a time. Perhaps . . . perhaps Salva could get through life at the camp in the same way.
Salva stood still inside the terminal doors for a few moments. Leaving the airport felt like leaving his old life forever-Sudan, his village, his family. . . .
Tears came to his eyes, perhaps from the cold air blowing in through the open doors. His new family was already outside; they turned and looked back at him.
Salva blinked away the tears and took his first step into a new life in America.
Nya went back and picked up the plastic can. She felt as if she were flying. School! She would learn to read and write!
Whenever he found himself losing hope, Salva would take a deep breath and think of his uncle’s words.
A step at as time.
One problem at a time—just figure out this one problem.
Day by day, solving one problem at a time, Salva moved toward his goal.
The man smiled. "What is your name?” he asked.
"I am Nya."
"I am happy to meet you, Nya," he said. "My name is Salva. "