The Legend of Korra tackles highly complex and rich ideologies throughout its four books. The protagonists and antagonists in each book reinforce their own ideas. Heroes and villains don’t exist. Each only presents an ideology that is different from the other.
But, the ideologies show the psychological elements of the characters. The uncertainty and unpredictability of the antagonists actions teach the audience how complicated humans are. Take a look at how ideologies are instrumental in the creation of truthful, multifaceted and compelling characters.
Book One introduces Korra to Republic City and to its revolutionary leader, Amon. His ideology stems all the way back to his childhood as Noatak. His father, Yakone, a criminal mastermind of Republic City, psychologically damages Noatak and his brother Tarrlok. They are manipulated when told their purpose in life is to avenge their father.
‘The Avatar stole it from me. That’s why I brought you out here, to learn your destiny. You two will become bloodbenders of the highest order. When the time is right, you will claim Republic City and you will destroy the Avatar. You must avenge me. That is your purpose in life’
With the build-up of Yakone’s psychological abuse, Noatak becomes withdrawn and disconnected from Tarrlok. He is left with the idea that those with power and control have more worth and importance than those who do not.
But, the most important element to Amon’s story is with years of his father telling him that he has no worth, he knows by learning how to blood bend he can strive for equality. Yet, as his little brother, Tarrlok, reminds Noatak that they can’t leave their mother, Noatak disregards her. This highlights how his perception of equality no longer rests with those who do not possess power.
This becomes a pivotal moment in Amon’s story that forms the purpose of his adult life. Even though his ideology to create an equal future for the citizens of Republic City is morally right, his personal reasons for leading a revolution are fraught with emotional trauma and imbalance.
The end of Amon’s story is both tragic and moving. Once he realises his quest to bring equality to Republic City is no longer achievable, he looks to his younger brother, Tarrlok, for reassurance. Tarrlok’s decision to kill himself and Amon is seen as punishment for the destruction he causes and as a way for them both to find peace and equality for their spiritual selves.
Undoubtedly, Amon isn’t a villain. He’s a lost child subjected to terrible mental abuse by his father. He needs to prove to himself that he isn’t an extension of his father’s ideology. But, his approach to achieving equality isn’t by peaceful acceptance of both benders and non-benders. And this is where he downfall lies.
Book Two introduces us to Korra’s uncle and Chief of the Northern Water Tribe. Unalaq organically reveals his ideology for power when he uses Korra as a tool to gain access to the spiritual world to release Vaatu and become the first dark avatar.
He believes humans and spirits must evolve to live harmoniously together. This is an element of his ideology that Korra learns from. She realises his actions are not all focused on his selfish need for great spiritual power.
Unalaq shares some of Amon’s ideology because overall he wants spirits as equal to humans. He wants them to travel to and from the spirit world and vice versa. But, bringing ten thousand years of darkness upon the physical world is not the best way to meet that vision.
He sets himself no boundaries of what is morally justified. This imbalance of ideology means he couldn’t see that his actions caused the physical and spirit world to descend into chaos. He was tipping the world into a cycle of dark energy that could never bring peace or harmony.
However, it cannot be understated that Unalaq’s deep connection to the spirits influences Korra to keep the spirit portals open permanently, proving his ideology is of some positive benefit.
Book Three welcomes an ideology in the form of Zaheer. He is a prisoner granted with the power of air bending. Using his newfound power, Zaheer’s motivation is freedom. His ideology is deep in political conflict and justifiable morals.
He believes the world must be free from oppressive governments, royalty and the avatar. He is not wrong in that the removal of governments and royal lineages could allow nations to evolve into equal societies and be free of oppression and power.
But, ultimately he gains power and control by leading the cause. His obsession with capturing Korra and physically shackling her is ironic in his reasons for doing so. He takes her freedom and almost that of the avatar line.
By taking his ideology to extremes, Zaheer causes upheaval in the earth kingdom and social disorder. The murder of the earth queen is morally wrong and could never inspire freedom or peace, only terror and chaos.
As the opposition to Korra, Zaheer’s ideology is not too dissimilar to the avatar’s. Both wish to bring freedom, equality and harmony to the world. But, it’s the choices they make that splits them apart.
Zaheer’s ideas of what the world could be are not wrong or selfish. Yet, it is the destuctive action he takes that leads to such extreme social breakdown. He becomes too focused on his ideas that he forgets about the very rights of the people he destroys.
Book Four sees Kuvira’s ideology of dictatorship and fascism come into play. She is intelligent, ambitious, strong, determined and resilient. Similar to Korra in many ways, Kuvira conquers every nation as she believes they can have better lives with her as leader.
Uniting the earth kingdom is her main goal, her determination in eradicating vulnerability of her people is a personal and tragic motivation. One which is so strong she never gives up. Up until the end of her journey, Kuvira never displays any vulnerabilities or weakness.
Being an orphan shapes who she becomes, revealing Korra’s enemies as people making choices which differ from her own because they experience the world differently.
Kuvira’s rise to power fuels the fascist ideology that one person can have power and control over those of other nations. She views her power as success and commits herself to preventing her vulnerabilities controlling her.
This teaches Korra to understand her enemies and to see them as people. By showing them compassion, Korra strengthens her own ideologies and gains greater knowledge of how to action her ideas peacefully and morally.
Everything is an Idea
Ultimately, human experiences create ideologies. Ideas are strong and powerful. When actioned in the right way, they become the foundations of evolution, change and wiser worlds.
Korra’s enemies teach us about ourselves and motivates her to balance the ideologies she possesses. That makes her one of the most powerful and compassionate avatars. But, it makes us stronger and understanding to how experiences define us.
All in all, we are our ideas. Our experiences influence every choice we make. We can only learn from them to become better versions of ourselves.