Continuing our series of posts on the characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender, we’re taking a look at Katara this week. Needless to say, there are spoilers ahead.
Strong female characters are a favourite of mine, that’s no secret, so it should come as no surprise to learn that I hold Katara in high esteem. She’s the sole female member and although she is outnumbered until Toph joins, is more than capable of being a balancing force to Aang and Sokka. Although the former is the main protagonist of the series, the story does, in fact, revolve around Katara, so it is fitting that she is analysed last.
The series begins with Katara. She is the first bender who we actually meet as well as being the narrator in the opening sequence. That establishes her place within the series as the most important character besides Aang. Initially, Katara barely has any skills, but gradually learns them until she reaches the North Pole. There she is told that the Northern Water Tribe does not teach women the traditional fighting skills but only the healing ones. Katara, as stubborn as she is, refuses to accept these terms and ultimately proves to Master Pakku that she is already capable of equaling him in a duel. However it is only once Pakku learns who Katara’s grandmother is does he relent and agree to teach her and Aang.
Book 2 sees Katara furthering her waterbending skills through actual combat and she proves an invaluable part of the team as they move through the Earth Kindgom. In book 3, Katara learns of the dark side of waterbending” bloodbending. And it is in this book that we finally get a glimpse of her darker side, where she willingly uses her new found ability to subdue the Fire Nation general who murdered her and Sokka’s mother. Only at the last instant does she exercise restraint and allow the man to live. In the final episode, Katara display the full range of her abilities as she assists Zuko in defeating Azula. Only afterward so we see a formal acknowledgement from her in regards to Aang’s affections when she give hims a kiss.
Why We Like Them
As mentioned above, Katara is a prime example of a strong female character. She’s assertive, determined, smart has interests beyond the romantic and isn’t afraid to display her emotions (mostly towards Sokka). In contrast to Toph, Katara isn’t afraid to embrace her femininity or to challenge established rules that she feels restrict her in that regard. A prime example is Master Pakku attempting to dissuade her on account of being a girl, a decision which he soon regrets.
Although Katara is not as overtly complex as some of the other characters in the series, that does not mean that she is unburdened. Numerous times throughout the series, the loss of her mother is used as an emotional plot point. However, it is only in book 3 do we learn why it is much more of an issue for Katara than Sokka; her mother died to protect her, something that is constantly on Katara’s mind.
Katara also acts as a balance to Aang. Numerous times throughout the series it is hinted that they are destined to be, but it is always presented as two sides of the same coin. Aang sees the romance, Katara sees the duty to protect, something she does on numerous occasions as Aang is unable to control is frustrations; only Katara can calm him down.
As the voice of reason within the group, Katara also helps steer things in the right direction, most of the time that is. She is not afraid to allow her moral compass to deviate if she feels able to justify it. A good example is when she steals the water scroll from the pirates. She justified it on the grounds that they probably stole it so why couldn’t she?
What Makes Them A Great Character
Although she is presented as a well-balanced character, there is a dark side to Katara that is only glimpsed at for most of the series before becoming more overt in book 3. This kind of aspect to a character helps frame them in a more realistic light. Unfortunately very few people are completely good in every respect and it would be unreasonable to expect a character in a TV show to be the same. Witnessing Katara engage in some morally questionable behaviour gives her a realism that is wholly appreciated.
Furthermore we see her develop as a character just like the others, but while they excel in skills, Katara not only does that but also grows as a character; displaying her emotions, learning from experience and becoming a generally more open person than she is at the start of the series. A good example is her outbursts, the very first one caused the ice containing Aang to break off but by the end of book 3, her emotions towards Zuko are much more subversive and threatening with none of the outward emotion attached.
On the flip side, Katara has a rather upbeat attitude and is almost always looking on the bright side, in stark contrast to Sokka’s skepticism. She positive impact on the other characters shouldn’t be underestimated; especially on Aang.
Katara is the balance between all the other extremes in the show. She is the centre, the one with which everyone else respects on a multitude of levels. She ties the whole show together and one can’t help bu wonder how much poorer the show would be without her.
Next week we move onto the Legend of Korra!