I was wondering how you thought different nations would raise children or view family life. The Water Tribe and Air Nation are the most distinctive (as I remember) but I can't really differentiate between the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation?
somewhat answered the question in this post, but I
didn’t delve into how children are trained and educated in the Four Nations,
which I think is worth examining.
for boys and girls is sex-segregated, and begins at home. We know that Gran-Gran
taught Katara about delivering babies, so presumably the girls would be taught
about assisting with childbirth, healing, and medical care, as well as the
traditional tasks of sewing and cleaning.
Calm down. I helped Gran-Gran deliver lots of babies back home. Sokka: This isn’t the same as delivering an arctic seal! This is a
real… human…. thing! Katara: It’s called a baby, and I helped to deliver plenty of those
they are legal adults, so they would also have learned about marriage and all that it entailed. As far as bending goes, they start training very early, around the
age of 4-6, judging by the beginner’s healing class in the North.
heads of household teach their sons about hunting, fishing, and fighting. At the age of 14, they undergo a rite of passage where they have to
steer a ship through ice-infested waters without adult supervision. Both they
and their crewmates earn marks based on their position in the crew. We don’t
see a beginner’s class for male waterbenders, but we do know that the Water
Tribe is not afraid of tough teaching methods.
that is common to both boys and girls is sailing. Katara and Sokka both know
how to steer a boat on their own at the very beginning of the show. Hardly a surprise, given their environment.
Education in the Earth Kingdom varies depending on your social status. We don’t see any schools for poor
children in the Earth Kingdom. For the children of rich parents, they are
educated through private tutors, such as Toph’s tutor, Master Yu:
I’m keeping her at the beginner’s level. Basic forms and breathing exercises
less wealthy children, there are classes with other students:
are you ready to commit to more lessons? If you pay for the whole year in
advance, I’ll bump you up to the next belt.
as we just saw, advancement can depend on how much money you have here, too.
noteworthy that the children in the rough-and-tumble earthbending classes are both
male and female, although we do see more boys than girls. By
contrast, we see an all-girls poetry class in Ba Sing Se:
This might be due to their relative wealth–it could be a select school for girls like the Fire Nation has. At any rate, the
difference in education for girls and boys, while present, is not quite as rigid
as the Water Tribe.
the nation with the most widespread education model. While there are select
schools for the wealthy and nobility:
Azula: Tell me, what is the daughter
of a nobleman doing here? Certainly our parents didn’t send us to the Royal
Fire Academy for Girls to end up in… places like this.
academies for regular Fire Nation children, with a strict curriculum and rigid
standards of behavior.
Kwan: Your etiquette is terrible. In the homeland, we bow to
our elders. Like so.
Teacher: No, child. That hullabaloo going on with your feet. Is that a
Headmaster: That’s what any mother would say, ma'am. Nonetheless,
you’re forewarned. If he acts up one more time, I’ll have him sent to reform
school…by which I mean the coal mines. Are we clear?
schools are state-run and contain a huge dose of Fire Nation propaganda:
Kwan: Question one: What year did Fire Lord Sozin battle the Air
Nation Army? Kuzon? Aang: Is that a trick question? The Air Nomads didn't have a
formal military. Sozin defeated them by ambush. Ms. Kwan: Well, I don’t know how you could
possibly know more than our national history book. Unless you were there a
hundred years ago.
positive note, while there are all-girl (and presumably all-boy) finishing
schools in the higher echelons of society, we see a very egalitarian mix of
gender in the regular Fire Nation academies.
no sex-segregated areas of education, including in the military. Azula was
trained from an early age, just like Zuko, to excel in firebending.
of which, because the Fire Nation justifies its war of conquest on the merits
of its bending, firebending is the most important part of education for those who possess the ability. While there are high-level nonbenders, such as Azula’s
instructors Lo and Li, having weak—or even weaker bending—can prevent you from gaining power. Zuko, despite being
two years older, is by no means certain to take the throne, partly based on his
relative incompetence and his sister’s prodigious achievement.
every citizen being an airbender, each Air Nomad child received bending training
from an early age. At the very least, children would have to be taught enough
bending not to fall from the Air Temple balconies! Unlike the other three
nations, an airbender’s master was his or her surrogate parent as well.
Gyatso: Aang, I’m not going to let
them take you away from me.
emphasized as a learning technique:
respect for one’s elders was … optional.
the Air Nomads were all trained in animal care, as they adopted sky bison as
children which would stay with them throughout their lives:
Nomad Woman: Choose well. A sky bison is a companion for life.
glosses over one aspect of education fairly heavily, which is: considering the
level of technological and social development of the Four Nations, it’s highly
unlikely that everyone would be able to read and write. We never encounter a
situation where someone can’t make out an inscription, or has trouble reading a
sign or “Wanted” poster. Even the dirt-poor Lee in that Earth Kingdom village
could read the inscription on Zuko’s dagger! Considering the Earth Kingdom and
the Fire Nation’s desire to keep knowledge contained, as well as the Water
Tribe’s lack of cheap paper-making materials, it would have made sense for the
GAang to encounter more people who rely on memorization than people who rely on
Background designs from the final episodes of Book One: WATER, Episode 18: The Waterbending Master / 19 & 20: The Siege of the North (Part 1 & 2). By Elsa Garagrava, Bryan Evans, Mike van Cleave (not sure about Konietzko, or others). Scans from ”The Art of the Animated series“ (order)
Bryan/Mike: The Avatar is a travelling road show, we rarely spent more than one episode in any given place. Being in the Northern Water Tribe for three epiosdes gave us the oportunity to further develop a complex location and explore it from many different angles. || Much consideration was given to what materials the Water Tribe would use in their architecture, due to their limited resources. In many places throughout the city, the structural supports were fashioned from whale bones, while Waterbenders formed the ice into beautiful buildings, bridges, and sculptures.
I think Sokka's quest for identity is one of the most interesting things about him. What it means to be a man, to be useful and to be acknowledged is an interesting central conflict for a supporting character. What do you think S3 Sokka believes it takes to be a man. I think he's learnt to intercede and mediate issues in his family and to make tough choices. What else can you think of?
Sokka: Now men,
it’s important that you show no fear when you face a firebender. In the Water
Tribe, we fight to the last man standing. For without courage, how can we call
excellent question! Sokka’s quest for identity is intrinsically linked to his
quest for manliness, because if you’ll recall, Sokka was not able to become a
man by Water Tribe custom before he was nominally put in charge of the tribe:
Bato: How about
you, Sokka? You must have some good stories from your first time ice-dodging? Katara: He never got to go. Dad left before he was old enough. Bato: Oh, I forgot, you were too young. Aang: What’s ice-dodging? Bato: It’s a rite of passage for young water tribe members.
But while Katara was helping with the chores, keeping her family
together and helping to deliver babies, Sokka was left adrift, without a
paternal example to emulate for two of his teenage years. War never came to his
doorstep, so he resorts to “training” the kindergarten crowed. And notice that
Katara (and likely the other members of his tribe) don’t take this seriously:
Katara: Ugh, I’m
embarrassed to be related to you! Ever since Mom died I’ve been doing all the
work around camp while you’ve been off playing soldier!
Katara’s right: that’s exactly what Sokka has been doing, because the
rigid gender expectations of being a man don’t allow him to do anything else.
One Aang arrives and upends Sokka’s world, his identity as a would-be man
collides with the reality of the war and the people around him.
The Four Parts
of Being a Man (by Sokka)
Sokka : I
know you all want to fly, but my instincts tell me we should play it safe this
time and walk. Katara: Who made you the boss? Sokka: I’m not the boss—I’m the leader. Katara : You’re the leader? But your voice still cracks! Sokka: I’m the oldest and I’m a warrior. So…I’m the leader!
hurt. Badly. You can’t fight anymore. Hakoda: Everyone’s counting on me to lead this mission, Katara. I
won’t let them down. Sokka: Can’t you heal him any faster? Katara: I’m doing everything I can. Sokka: I’ll do it. Katara: No offense Sokka but you’re not exactly Mr. Healing Hands. Sokka: No. I’ll lead the invasion force. Katara: Don’t be crazy, Sokka. Sokka: Maybe I am a little crazy but the eclipse is about to start and
we need to be up that volcano by the time it does. Hakoda: You can do this. I’m proud of you, son. Katara: I still think you’re crazy but I’m proud of you too.
Sokka’s father is the chief, so it makes sense that being a man implies
being a leader. But before his adventure, Sokka has only a nebulous idea of
what that really means. Worse, he seems to think that being a man makes him a
leader, instead of being a leader making him a man. When he first tries to
assert his authority in “Jet”, he is met with ridicule:
Aang: Walking stinks!
How do people go anywhere without a flying bison? Katara: I don’t know Aang. Why don’t you ask Sokka’s instincts—they
seem to know everything. Sokka: Ha ha. Very funny. Aang: I’m tired of carrying this pack. Katara: You know who you should ask to carry it for a while?
Sokka’s Instincts! Aang: That’s a great idea! Hey, Sokka’s Instincts, would you mind— Sokka: Okay, okay—I get it.
As so often happens, Sokka has to adapt to the situation. “Jet” is about
a boy who, although a good leader in most senses, leads his team astray into
murder and mayhem. Sokka, even though he is a novice, realizes innocent lives
are on the line and warns the townspeople before the dam explodes. He didn’t
expect to be a leader at the moment, but he didn’t fail when it really mattered.
Throughout the series, his tactical and strategic successes accumulate until
the entire GAang relies on him to plan their missions. And on “The Day of Black
Sun”, despite his fumbling speech beforehand, Sokka takes the reins of the
mission and performs admirably.
Aang: It’s over.
The Fire Lord is probably long gone. Far away on some remote island where he’ll
be safe during the eclipse. Sokka: No. My instincts tell me he wouldn’t go too far. He would have a
secret bunker. Somewhere he could go so it’ll be safe during a siege but still
be close enough to lead his nation. Toph: If it’s an underground secret bunker we’re looking for, I’m just
the girl to find it.
No one’s laughing at Sokka’s instincts
Sokka, you’re making a mistake. Sokka: No! I’m keeping my promise to Dad. I’m protecting you from
threats like him!
Illusion Yue: You didn’t protect me.
mother was murdered when he was very young, and there was nothing he could do
about it. He knows from how devastated his father was and how driven he became
to help the war effort that being a man must mean protecting people—especially the women in your life. Sokka
protects Katara on multiple occasions from threats real (Jet, Mai) and imagined
(Aang, Appa). Protecting Katara is his way of protecting the mother he couldn’t
save as a boy. And his inability to protect Yue from sacrificing herself cuts
him deeply. He overcompensates by trying to shield Suki from everything:
I know you’re just trying to help, but I can take care of myself. Sokka: I know you can. Suki: Then why are you acting so over protective? Sokka: It’s so hard to lose someone you care about. Something
happened at the North Pole, and I couldn’t protect someone. I don’t want
anything like that to ever happen again.
In the end,
Sokka learns how to be protect the people he cares about without stifling them.
His shielding of Toph in the finale is very similar to his protecting Katara in
one key difference: in the pilot, Sokka thought of Katara as someone who is
more in need of protection as a girl. In the finale, Sokka recognizes that Toph
can’t see the falling shards of metal, but respects her fighting ability over
Sokka: Did I
mention how sweet it was that you invented metalbending?
Sokka: I am so
glad we added you to the group!
than being a leader, being a warrior defines being a man in the Water Tribe.
And no wonder; with decades of being raided by the ruthless Fire Nation, and
waterbenders being increasingly scarce, the South would have had to rely more
and more on brute strength to drive off the invaders. A warrior is also the one
thing Sokka is most insecure about because it implies a certain skillset that
he was too young to receive full training in. Not to mention, his sister is a
waterbender and he is not. Witness this exchange from “The Warriors of Kyoshi”:
are you? Where are the men who ambushed us? Suki: There were no men. We ambushed you. Now
tell us, who are you and what are you doing here? Sokka: Wait a second, there’s no way that a bunch of girls took us
gender roles are fairly rigid in the Southern Water Tribe, the Sokka from the
very beginning of the series feels the constant need to reinforce being a
warrior as a “manly” pursuit and puts Katara down for being a girl. I am reminded
of Iroh’s speech to Zuko:
Iroh: Prince Zuko,
pride is not the opposite of shame, but its source.
humility is the only antidote to shame.
Sokka’s status as a nonbender is often
a source of shame for him. He is treated differently by bending masters:
Master Pakku: Sokka.
Take care, son.
And even his own teammates:
Toph: We can take
‘em. Three on three. Sokka: Actually, Toph, there’s four of us. Toph: Oh. I’m sorry, I didn’t count you. You know, no bending and all. Sokka: I can still fight! Toph: Okay. Three on three plus Sokka.
This leads him to act proud of his
manliness, an attribute that he needs no training or bending to have. He even
tries to get Aang to act “manlier” and not answer to “Twinkletoes”. In the end,
though, he confesses the truth about how he feels:
Sokka: Look, I
appreciate the effort, but the fact is each of you is so amazing
and so special, and I’m not. I’m just the guy in the group
But Sokka is
special, and as the series goes on, he proves his mettle with a balance of
outlandish inventiveness and logical practicality:
Sokka: See, the
problem with the old war balloon was you could get it airborne, but once you
did, it just kept going. You could put a hole in the top, but then all
the hot air would escape. So the question became, how do you keep a lid on hot
air? Katara: Ugh, if only we knew. Sokka: A lid is actually the answer. If you control the hot air, you
control the war balloon. Katara: Hmm. That’s actually pretty smart.
Sokka: I need a plan of this machine. Some schematics that show
what the inside looks like. Then we can find it’s weak points. Aang: Where are we gonna get something like that What are you
doing! Someone’s gonna hear us! Sokka: That’s the point. I figure a machine this big needs
engineers to run it, and when something breaks… Katara: They come to fix it.
He overcomes his insecurities as a warrior by being true to himself.
when you first arrived, you were so unsure. You even seemed down on yourself.
But I saw something in you right away. I saw a heart as strong as a lion
turtle, and twice as big. And as we trained, it wasn’t your skills that
impressed me. No, it certainly wasn’t your skills. You showed
something beyond that. Creativity, versatility, intelligence… these are
the traits that define a great swordsman. And these are the traits that define
you. You told me you didn’t know if you were worthy, but I believe that
you are more worthy than any man I have ever trained.
Sokka can show how brave he is, how creative
he is, and how much of a leader he’s become. But in the end, he measures his
identity as a man by his father’s example:
Sokka, that speech wasn’t your moment of truth. That was just public
speaking and nobody’s really good at that. Sokka: My Dad is. He explained the plan perfectly and inspired everyone.
Like a real leader should. Aang: Look, your moment of truth isn’t going to be in front of some map.
It’s going to be out there, on the battlefield.
Unlike with Zuko, Sokka’s confidence in his
father is fully justified. As he grows and matures, he becomes, not a copy of
his father, but his own person. He learns that he can be a warrior without
putting others down, and he can assert authority without being pigheaded. He
can trust in his own abilities, regardless of how skilled everyone else is
around him. And Hakoda validates Sokka’s identity in every respect.
As a protector:
Hakoda: Sokka… Sokka: I’m coming with you. Hakoda: You’re not old enough to go to war, Sokka, you know that. Sokka: I’m strong! I’m brave! I can fight! Please, Dad! Hakoda: Being a man is knowing
where you’re needed the most, and for you right now that’s here protecting your
sister. Sokka: I don’t understand. Hakoda: Someday you will. I’m going to miss you so much.
As a warrior:
Hakoda: Ready to
go knock some Fire Nation heads? Sokka: You don’t know how much this means to me dad. I’ll make you
proud, and I’ll finally prove to you what a great warrior I am. Hakoda: Sokka, you don’t have to prove anything to me. I’m already proud of you, and I’ve always
known you were a great warrior.
Sokka: Really? Hakoda: Why do you think I trusted you to look after our tribe when I
As a leader:
No. I’ll lead the invasion force. Katara: Don’t be crazy, Sokka. Sokka: Maybe I am a little crazy but the eclipse is about to start and
we need to be up that volcano by the time it does. Hakoda: You can do this.
I’m proud of you, son.
And as a man.
Hakoda: Bato, get
these mines loaded up. The rest of you men, prepare for battle! Sokka: Uh, what should I do, Dad? Hakoda: Aren’t you listening? I said the rest of you men get ready for battle.
be a fantastic father to his own children someday, no matter what LOK might imply.