TV Shows, Pop Culture

‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ taught me more life lessons than you’d think

Katara shaped my childhood and my entire life

Long ago, when I was in elementary school, I used to watch television sparingly. Then, everything changed when Avatar: The Last Airbender premiered. If you are a fan of the television show, you may have noticed that my first two sentences were a parody of the opening sequence. If you haven’t watched the show, I recommend that you do. If you watched the film adaptation, I recommend that you forget it. It doesn’t do the story justice.

Avatar: The Last Airbender ran on Nickelodeon for three seasons, from 2005 to 2008. The show follows Aang, the last airbender, as he sets off to defeat the Fire Lord. The Fire Nation has waged a war against the Earth Kingdom and the two Water Tribes for nearly 100 years. The Fire Nation wiped out the Air Nomads, leaving Aang the last of his kind. Aang has to master all four elements — earth, fire, water, and air — before facing the Fire Lord.

Avatar was my favorite television show when I was younger. Frankly, it still is my favorite television show now. I have a hard time pinpointing down what precisely draws me to this show. So, I’ll name just one:  Katara, one of the protagonists of the show, taught me many lessons at my young impressionable age of seven. Fortunately for me, these were the right lessons. Katara showed me how to combat misogyny and recognize that seeking accountability is not the best method for closure at times. 

One lesson that Katara taught me is the importance of fighting sexism when it comes to opening doors for yourself. Katara is the only waterbender from the Southern Water Tribe and becomes Aang’s waterbending teacher. While Katara is a talented Waterbender, she has not had formal training. She recognizes that she should receive this training in order to better instruct Aang in the art of Waterbending. Katara goes to the North Pole in the episode “The Waterbending Master” to try and receive formal training from Pakku, a waterbending master.

Unfortunately, Pakku rejects Katara’s request to train under him. Yes, you guessed it, because she is a girl. Instead, he allows a less-skilled Aang to train under him solely because he is a guy. Later on in the episode, Katara challenges Pakku to a fight. Although she does not win, Pakku recognizes her skill at waterbending and invites her to train under him, which she accepts.

During my first year of university, I had used Katara’s passion to combat sexism in my Economics classes. These classes were predominantly male, and I felt that I had to work harder in order to be taken more seriously. I don’t think I should have had to work harder, but my hard work paid off.

In the episode “The Southern Raiders,” Zuko, a former antagonist who decided to help Aang, offers to help Katara find the Fire National general who killed her mother when Katara was a child. This episode plays a large part in Zuko’s redemption arc, which is arguably the best redemption arc of all time.  Zuko and Katara are able to locate this person, Yon Rha. Katara wants to kill him, and she nearly does but decides that killing him won’t offer her closure. It certainly won’t bring her mother back.

Like Katara, I have found that a method that I have wanted to hold someone accountable would not benefit me in the long run. I nearly sued a professor who sexually assaulted and harassed me, but I decided that a possibly years-long court battle would not help my mental health. Like Katara will never forgive her mother’s killer, I won’t forgive my assaulter. I just need to find a different method for closure.

Lessons that Katara has taught me have stuck with me for over 10 years past the final episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I will never stop being grateful for all this show has given me. Katara is a strong feminist character whose personality and journey helped shape me to become the person that I am today.