Avatar The Last Airbender Themes Essay

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An essay I wrote in school that connected real world themes to Avatar the Last Airbender.

Submitted: October 08, 2017

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Submitted: October 08, 2017



Avatar the Last Airbender Themes Essay


Avatar the Last Airbender is an American animated series that aired on Nickelodeon from 2005 through 2008. The style of animation and the cultures within the series took influence from many Eastern regions. It is acclaimed by critics for its story and art, and even has a sequel series called The Legend of Korra. But how does Avatar the Last Airbender connect to the real world? Avatar the Last Airbender has connections to the real world shown through the themes of imperialism, industrialization, and revolutions against monarchy.

Avatar the Last Airbender had a theme of industrialization. In ATLA (Avatar the Last Airbender), there is an empire called the Fire Nation. Before the Hundred Year War, the war taking place in ATLA, the Fire Nation was a rich, bountiful country ruled by their monarch known as the Fire Lord. One day, the people started to innovate more due to the nation’s prosperity. Similar to the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, the Fire Nation’s leap in technology was mainly sparked and controlled by the invention of the steam engine (Outman, 1). Soon enough, the entire ATLA world was “transformed by rapidly accelerating changes in agriculture, manufacturing, and power” just like the real world during the Industrial Age (Unit 19: Global Industrialization). Their production of food and goods vastly increased due to the improvements in agriculture and manufacturing, thus further cementing the nation’s fortune. The Fire Nation in a short time became the most advanced nation in the series. Their ships, agricultural techniques, steam power, and factories far surpassed all the other nations in comparison to their technology. Using their newfound advancements and engineering, the Fire Nation decided to militarize and because of this, similar to the events before World War I, “militarism denoted a rise in military expenditure, an increase in military and naval forces, more influence of the military” (World War I). They used their new technologies as a way to create warships, tanks, zeppelins, and other combat vehicles and weaponry. They used this technology to try to conquer the world. The other nations of the world were nowhere near the Fire Nation’s level of advancement, the closest nations having simple pulley based machinery, and were easily defeated by the Fire Nation’s superior artillery.  

The technologies created by the Fire Nation before and during the Hundred Years War were very impressive, however, there were some problems that stemmed from their sudden development. Mainly pollution and destruction. To power and create their technology, lots of smoke and sludge was generated and filled into the world. Rivers by factories were made hazardous, Fire Nation warships travelling in the North and South Poles caused the snow to turn black with ash, and land had to be cleared away to make room for even more facilities. The damage caused by the introduction of this technology was widespread and even later when the technology improved even more after the war, closer to a more modern era, nature was still greatly affected.  

After the Hundred Year War ended, technology began to move towards more commercial type of use. Similar to the real world during the Industrial Revolution, the Fire Nation, and the other nations, “emphasized the expansion of financial organization and political policies that were conducive to technology-based economic growth” (Klassen, 1). In LOK (Legend of Korra), there is a place called Republic City. In Republic city, technologies such as the radio, automobile, photography, and eventually even film were all invented. The technologies invented during this time were very similar to the period of the late 1800s and early 1900s. There were some differences in the technology, such as their exact origins and minor mechanics, but were also different in the sense that the technology of this time was developed at a much more alarming rate. In fact, in less than a decade after these inventions someone had already created a weapon of equal power to a nuclear bomb and mechanized battle suits. Despite the difference in development speed, the series shows the introduction of these technologies and how they affected the world around them, such as the economy by showing businesses that used and sold the technology, transportation by the way they had to redesign cities with roads built for automated vehicles, and the way that military leaders of the time had to change their battle strategies when faced with some of these advancements like utilizing, or going against, the battle suits and pseudo-nuclear bombs. All of these trends of advancement show a theme of industrialization.

Avatar the Last Airbender had a theme of imperialism. Imperialism, as defined by well-known political scientist Michael Parenti, is “the process whereby the dominant politico-economic interests of one nation expropriate for their own enrichment the land, labor, raw materials, and markets of another people” (Parenti).  As mentioned earlier, the Fire Nation attempted to conquer the world, which is an example of a single power gaining something by taking from people of other regions. Using their vast military power, the Fire Nation sent troops across the world. Among the places they conquered, one of the first places they attacked was the Air Nation. The Air Nation was made up of four temples, the northern, southern, eastern, and western temples, and were home to the nomadic Airbenders, a group of peaceful monks. The Fire Nation, like the mass killings done by Nazi Germany, annihilated the nomads (January, 40). A major difference between the genocides, however, is that the destruction of the nomads only left one survivor, the Avatar Aang. The other nations that were attacked, the Water Tribes and the Earth Kingdom, were attacked similarly, but with nowhere near as many casualties. When they did attack the other nations, it was mainly for the resources that the land had to offer.  

Another example of imperialism is that in order to effectively gather resources, the Fire Nation, like the Europeans in Africa, decided to colonize. The Fire Nation’s reasoning was the same as Europe, which was that the “imperialist push… was motivated by three main factors, economic, political, and social” (Iweriebor). The Fire Nation forced the regions they conquered to become colonies of their empire and, most of the time, would enslave the pre-existing populace by putting them in work camps, prisons, or a hybrid of both. They did this to improve their economy, expand their political influence, and to show their apparent superiority to the other nations. Just like the Europeans during the scramble for Africa, the Fire Nation’s inhabitants treated claiming territory as a competition, a way to increase social status and recognition (Iweriebor). One example of this would be the late General Zhao of the Fire Nation, who tried to use his attempt at conquering the North Water Tribe as a way to gain fame and renown in history, but failed and was defeated. The colonies were especially important to the Fire Nation, as most of the goods and products from their territories came after the conquering and settling. The treatment of the Fire Nation’s workers varied colony to colony, but most of them were abused to at least some degree and all of them were considered a lower class than the Fire Nation citizens/colonists. The Fire Nation sent all non-fire benders to prison camps, due to the fear of foreign benders revolting against them. In some circumstances, the benders were even killed to prevent future generations from being born. Killing for this reason mainly happened to the Air Nation, but it was also committed often to the Water Tribe due to the Fire Nation’s hate of water benders, which escalated so much that, once again trying to prove himself, the late General Zhao tried to permanently destroy the source of all water bending. There were multiple other scenarios where the Fire Nation used other nations for their gain, and they did it all for the pursuit of power. With this many cases of genocide, enslavement, and forced colonization in foreign territories, Avatar the Last Airbender shows examples of imperialism.

Avatar the Last Airbender had a theme of revolutions against monarchs. In ATLA, the Fire Nation’s monarch, the Fire Lord Ozai, was known far and wide. He was obsessed with power and he was a major reason why the Fire Nation was so merciless towards the defeated peoples even years after the conquest. To stop him, many of the areas forced to be colonies of the Fire Nation revolted against the monarchy and the nation itself. The revolution against the Fire Nation was similar to the American revolution in the sense that both were done because the residing people believed their ruling classes to be unjust and unfair to them (American Revolution). It was different in the sense that while the Americans fought to completely get rid of monarchy, the oppressed nations only fought to stop the corruption of the Fire Nation’s government and they still wanted to reinstate their previous governments, many of which were monarchies, such as the Earth Kingdom. To fight against the Fire Nation, many of the countries formed resistance groups and under the unification of the Avatar Aang, the last surviving airbender, initiated multiple attacks onto the Fire Nation. After defeating the Fire Lord Ozai, the resistance groups put Zuko, Ozai’s son, on the throne. Immediately after he took the throne, Zuko freed the colonies and worked to undo the damage done by the Hundred Years War. Later on, as a symbol of peace between nations, Zuko and the other nation leaders funded a city where all were welcome and was called Republic City, the city shown in LOK.  

Another example of a revolution against monarchy was the Earth Kingdom in LOK. During this time, the monarch of the Earth Kingdom, known as the Earth Queen, was draining her citizens dry. She raised taxes to an extreme and differences between the social classes in Ba Sing Se (the capital of the kingdom) was more prevalent than ever before. Anyone who wasn’t rich was almost certainly poor in this kingdom, and the Earth Queen ruled with an iron fist. Using the Dai Lee, which was the secret police of Ba Sing Se, she tolerated no form of disobedience and kidnapped citizens to put into her own private army. One day an anarchist known as Zaheer went to the queen’s throne, and using his air bending, stole her breath until she suffocated and died. Similar to the Russian Revolution, Zaheer killed the queen for the same reason that the Bolsheviks killed the Tsar’s family. Zaheer and Lenin both were against the idea of monarchy and, as Lenin put it, did it to “replace the unjust social order” (Fleming, 204). The major difference between the two, however, is that while Lenin wanted to replace the government, Zaheer wanted the complete destruction of all forms of order because he believed the world would be better in the natural order. To him, the natural order was disorder.  

Lastly, there was another revolution against monarchs in LOK, once again in the Earth Kingdom. After the Earth Queen was assassinated, the Earth Kingdom fell apart into riots and disorder. Eventually, the entire nation split into several, smaller countries each with their own independent rule. Similar to the French Revolution, the Earth Kingdom’s government was sporadic, constantly being overthrown, and it “was based on a hatred of tradition and desire to use the power…to create a new order” (French Revolution).  In an effort to reconnect the Earth Kingdom, the other nations of the world enlisted the task of reconstructing to a soldier named Kuvira. Kuvira was a powerful earth and metal bending warrior. Not only that, but her high charisma allowed her to gain many followers and build up her army, succeeding in bringing all the separated states under a single absolute power, becoming so efficient that she was called the Great Uniter. Immediately after, however, instead of handing power over to the surviving Earth Kingdom royal, Prince Wu, like she was hired to, she instead declared that the Earth Kingdom was her’s and renamed it the Earth Empire. This was a revolution of its own against the return of the previous monarchy, and there are many parallels between Kuvira and Napoleon. Both were charismatic, both reunited their broken nations, both got rid of monarchy by replacing it with another monarchy, and both tried to conquer the world. All of these examples show instances of revolutions against monarchy in Avatar the Last Airbender.

To conclude, Avatar the Last Airbender has parallels to multiple events and people in human history. Monarchs, wars, dictators, and rebellions are all shown in the series. That is how Avatar the Last Airbender has connections to real world themes of industrialization, imperialism, and revolutions against monarchs. Avatar the Last Airbender, along with its sequel series the Legend of Korra, have many other connections and lessons that can be discovered by watching it. The series is a masterpiece of story and art, and should be highly recommended to anyone for the ideas it conveys.


Works Cited:

"American Revolution." ["Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition"]. Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6Th Edition, Apr. 2016, pp. 1-4. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=khh&AN=39043498&site=eds-live&authtype=uid.


Fleming, Candace. The family Romanov: murder, rebellion & the fall of Imperial Russia. New York: Schwartz & Wade , 2014. Print.  


"French Revolution." French Revolution - New World Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.


Iweriebor, Ehiedu. "The Colonization of Africa." The Colonization of Africa. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.


January, Brendan. Genocide: modern crimes against humanity. Minneapolis: Twnty-first Century , 2007. Print.


Klassen, Jeff. "Industrial Revolution." Research Starters: Sociology (Online Edition), 2015. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=89185541&site=eds-live&authtype=uid.  


Parenti, Michael. "Imperialism 101." Imperialism 101. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.


Outman, James L., Elisabeth M. Outman, and Mattthew May. Industrial Revolution. Detroit: UXL, 2003. Print.


"UNIT 19: Global Industrialization." Annenberg Learner. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.

"World War I." World War I - Militarism. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.

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