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Sokka: Mastering your Wound

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

After a few rounds of discussion relating to how the complex themes of The Legend of Korra are presented both incredibly nuanced and disastrously obvious and heavy-handed (through major fault of the production mess), a common criticism thrown at the original classic is that it had a fairly black & white morality system whose complexity certainly did not come from its primary antagonist or Aang's hardships at choosing which side of history to stand on. While the statement is very much true, it is a huge misstep to label it as criticism.

Much like any long-running series which starts off simple but becomes complex as it goes on, the ideas evolve based on the audience it is trying to attract and the writers' own experiences and newfound understanding of the world. Whether it be the original trilogy of Star Wars or The Simpsons' early, more family-oriented plots, the simplistic nature of these works of art stands the test of time.

The reason for that is quite simple. Once you present us with a clear goal, checklist, and challenges to be faced relating to them, you are pushing yourself to bring the subversive beats and intrigue through your character-writing and their dynamics relating to each other and the events of the world.

As such, let's look at one of the most interesting characters produced in the Avatar Universe, the most compelling character not to have the abilities that define this universe, the perfect portrayal of the most human things: vulnerability and insecurity.

One of the earliest memories of Sokka that is shown is how he was packing to go to war along with his father only to be rejected from going on to the ship, since he was not a man yet. The idea was that he becomes a man through age and wisdom, but Sokka conflated this with gender as well. His sexism stems pretty strongly from the Water Tribe as well, which is highly traditionalistic and patriarchal, seen most clearly through the seemingly far more evolved North. All the men have to leave to fight in the war and the last remaining, oldest man Sokka is expected to defend them.

This is Sokka's wound. In writing, a wound is any painful incident in a character's history that has shaped them, for better or worse, into the person they are now. Sokka created his own image in his head as weak, unprepared for combat and unworthy of defending. His wound was both the source of his goal and the hinderance to it. He could not respect himself without feeling powerful.

The problem for him that lies here is that his little sister and the goofy kid he hangs out with are monumentally stronger than he is. They are even often described as some of the strongest warriors in the world. Sokka never finds himself saving the damsel in distress or having a village hail his name for his heroic antics. He is, for the most part, an ideas man, the one behind the scene who can usually do nothing but orchestrate the beats and choreograph the moves. Other times, he is accidentally caught in his own sister's attacks or is captured by spirits.

Sokka, of course, never misses his moment to get into the fight. Before his sister was the legendary waterbender, Sokka prepared to fight a ship of fire nation alone, with no hope of defeating them. There is no better frame to characterise Sokka as a warrior than him staying still while a combat ship rams through the very wall he is standing on. Brave but stupid.

Sokka is someone who balances his pragmatism and his ideological nature on a really tight rope. While he will kick Aang out of his village as his very presence puts the village at risk, he will also chase after his captors despite standing very little chance of success. He was very much ready to chase a large ship in a small fishing boat. As the show goes on, Sokka, for the most part, becomes the vessel to facilitate the other characters’ ideological standpoints, including allowing Katara to save a fishing village or saving a metallic ship filled with imprisoned earthbender.

The truth is, Sokka’s hesitant nature allows him to avoid having to be honest with himself, that he leans towards his ideology more than pragmatism, and his sister completes the second half of this dynamic. He doesn’t want the earthbenders Katara cares so much about to suffer everyday, just like he doesn’t want his father any longer in prison that he has to, and he will go to lengths that are clearly not practical.

There are two transitional moments in the show that give us the Sokka we know at the end of the show. The first of this is his humiliating defeat at the hands of Suki. Sokka isn't even closely matched up against her. The man who saw himself taking on the entire Fire Nation finds his leg and hand tied to each other with his own belt.

What impresses many about him is his next move. He apologises to Suki for his behaviour and also, in fact, his outlook on gender in terms of combat. If Sokka defined himself with the idea of masculinity equating strength, having to dress up like Kyoshi was the antithesis of his belief. He got to learn that the Kyoshi Warriors aren't strong DESPITE their outfit, but because of it, and learns that the real significance is about their warrior blood and honour in defending their home, while also serving as a sturdy armour. Much like any other culture which used material symbols to push their warriors through inspiration, Kyoshi did the same.

Throughout the rest of his story, Sokka stopped identifying his position as the leader through his gender and started to do so with his fierce heart and cunningness. He still, however, found his own inability to fight back a major hurdle in his life.

In the brilliant Book 3 chapter, Sokka's Master, he found himself standing still while his friends were all exhausting a burning meteorite and saving the town. At that moment, all of his insecurity about his own abilities came rushing through. The Gaang handled this situation fairly well by both acknowledging his essential role in their working and accepting that his need to grow more should not be dismissed. Katara took him shopping for a new weapon and further encouraged him to be under the wing of a skilled master.

Despite a misinterpretation that the episode dictates the value of Sokka to be only if he has a sword in hand, the episode does not really make him a kinaesthetically gifted swordsman. Under Master Piandao, Sokka discovered the value of his creativity, versatility and intelligence being extended to a combat role.

Sokka picked up every high-utility skill he needed during his time as the hunter, defender and teacher at the Southern Water Tribe. The show pushed new traits onto him to allow him to get out of his own development. Suki taught him to respect everyone around him for their skills, Piandao let him beat his limitations through re-asserting the skills he has, and when it came down to the invasion, Sokka pushed forward as an amazing leader. The man his father wanted him to be.

By the end of the show, Sokka is developed in quite a few forms of intelligences as described by American Psychologist, Howard Gardner. Sokka's naturist abilities help him become a great survivor, his pragmatism is a product of his logically developed mindset, his linguistic arts do not leave anything to be desired (especially in a Haiku-battle), and his spatial awareness makes him the architect of tomorrow in the world of Avatar. Through the story, he develops interpersonal skills through Suki and Intrapersonal ones through Master Piandao, making him one of the most gifted characters in the show, bending or not.

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