Spiritual Themes in Avatar: Good, Evil, and Balance
By Toyin Yusuf
Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra are favorites of mine. There are many reasons why I adore the Avatar Universe, it has amazing world-building, a deep story, and (of course) it has many spiritual themes. I will explain the themes of Good, Evil, and Balance.
Good vs. Evil
All religions and philosophies have this concept of good and evil, and humans have the capacity to do both. In the Avatar Universe, we have the spirits Raava and Vaatu displaying this concept. Raava and Vaatu’s representation is inspired by Yin & Yang from Chinese philosophy; Raava is the spirit of light and peace and Vaatu is the spirit of darkness and chaos. Each of the spirits has a part of each other in them, Raava’s dark spot and Vaatu’s light spot. And originally these spirits were connected to each other by their tails.
In the Legend of Korra, we see the story of the first avatar. This starts with Wan who is human, who sees the spirits fighting each other. Wan thinks Raava is in the wrong and he separates the spirits. This frees Vaatu from Raava which leads him to spread chaos and darkness throughout the world. While more darkness is spread, Raava shrinks in power and influence. To combat this, Raava and Wan team up to try to bring balance to the world. When harmonic convergence comes, Wan and Raava are able to defeat Vatuu by trapping him in the Tree of Time. In this process, Wan and Raava have merged to become the first avatar. But even with Vatuu trapped, darkness still persists in the world, continuing the theme of good and evil coexisting.
So, Wan spends the rest of his days trying to bring peace and balance, only for it to prevail once more. This quote from Wan in Book 2 ep 8 describes this harsh reality:
As you see, Raava reassures Wan that the work to keep balance will continue past his lifetime. The avatar spirit is passed on to another when he dies.
Balance is a huge theme in the Avatar Universe; there’s a balance between good and evil, the four nations, between humans and spirits, and the four elements. In these shows (and books), we see what goes wrong when things are out of balance.
The quote aforementioned is said in every Korra opening. There also needs to be a balance between human and spirit.
The Avatar bears the responsibility of maintaining the balances. In relation to good and evil, there needs to be a balance. Mankind continues to spread darkness and the avatar spirit lives on through reincarnation to counter the chaos. In Korra’s time, another harmonic convergence occurs and she has to fight Vaatu. This time he is defeated by being absorbed into Korra and his existence persists.
We also see the importance of maintaining the four nations in this world and the need for the avatar. Without the presence of the Avatar, The fire nation initiates the 100-year war and destroys the entire air nation. Kuvira is able to spread her empire and exploit spirit energy.
Wan closed the spirit portals during his time and kept the human and spirit worlds separate. Korra opens a new spirit portal for humans and spirits to coexist again. This also brings air bending back into the world, restoring the balance of the four elements.
Without the Avatar, chaos spreads and the Avatar is needed to save the world. Good, Evil, and Balance are some spiritual themes shown in the Avatar Universe, and it’s shown wonderfully through the Avatar’s responsibilities.
We are then brought the unforgettable quote from Katara in the first ATLA episode: