Although it is primarily set during Sudan’s Second Civil War, A Long Walk to Water offers surprisingly little background information about the conflict. Aside from a short author’s note, the book is free from any mention of the political forces that led to the long, bloody war. Instead of going into detail about the causes of the violence in Sudan, Park portrays the effects of this violence: displaced villagers, orphaned children, and an overall sense of despair. In this way, her book offers a moving portrait of the social strife in Sudan in the past thirty years.
Even though A Long Walk to Water isn’t a thorough history of Sudan, Park divides the social strife in Sudan into two clear groups. First, she describes the civil war that took place in Sudan beginning in the 1980s. During this period, North Sudanese soldiers acting on behalf of the government tried to tighten controls over the population in semi-autonomous South Sudan. South Sudanese forces refused to be incorporated into the rest of Sudan, partly because they objected to the Islamic laws of the North Sudanese government, and partly because of the lucrative oil reserves on their land. (For more information on the Second Sudanese Civil War, see Background Info.) Park also emphasizes the social strife between different ethnic groups in South Sudan, such as the Nuer and Dinka tribes. On several occasions, Park notes that these two tribes have been warring for centuries, largely over land and water. These two main forms of social strife have one thing in common: both are premised on cultural difference (even if Park doesn't go into a lot of detail on what, exactly, those differences are) and scarcity of resources (such as oil and water).
Park is unambiguous in her depiction of the effects of social strife in Sudan: it tears apart families, terrorizes children, and kills innocent people. The civil war forces Salva to flee his village without his parents and siblings. He and countless other refugees must walk across the country in search of safer conditions in Ethiopia. Furthermore, the ongoing rivalries between different South Sudanese tribes make survival during wartime even more difficult. While the North Sudanese troops think of the southerners as a single entity, the different tribes of South Sudan refuse to work together, instead breaking off into competing factions, which makes them more vulnerable.
A Long Walk to Water offers an optimistic, though arguably simplistic, view of how to remedy social strife: development. (See “Development” theme.) The book ends with Salva, now an adult, returning to South Sudan to build wells for many different tribes. In doing so, Park implies, Salva is ending an age-old rivalry between tribes and breaking down barriers. Even more broadly, Salva’s well-building initiative arguably improves some of the social strife between North and South Sudan, since it provides impoverished people with the resources they need—some of the same resources whose absence sparked civil war in the first place. However, in recent years, the social strife in Sudan has proven to be far harder to repair than Park suggests at the end of her book. Centuries-old rivalries, based not only on the availability of resources but on basic cultural differences, have continued to contribute to instability in the region. While Park can hardly be blamed for ending a young adult novel on an optimistic note, her novel arguably turns a blind eye to some of the more nuanced social issues that leave Sudan vulnerable to ongoing social strife in the future.
Social Strife ThemeTracker
Social Strife Quotes in A Long Walk to Water
The war had started two years earlier. Salva did not understand much about it, but he knew that rebels from the southern part of Sudan, where he and his family lived, were fighting against the government, which was based in the north. Most of the people who lived in the north were Muslim, and the government wanted all of Sudan to be come a Muslim country—a place where the beliefs of Islam were followed.
The rumor was that about three thousand boys and young men from the refugee camps would be chosen to go live in America!
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.
"I will come to the village,” Salva promised, “as soon as it is safe!”
“We will be there waiting for you,” his father promised in turn.
Salva pressed his face tightly to his father's as they hugged goodbye, their tears flowing and blending together.
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.
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.”
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. "