Ethos, pathos and logos are three different types of appeals used to persuade an audience during a speech or argument. They also represent the three leads of Avatar: The Last Airbender: Aang, Katara, and Sokka. But how does each character’s representation of the modes of persuasion affect them, and how does this affect their group dynamic? Let’s find out.
WARNING: Spoilers for the entire series are spread throughout this post.
Aang = Ethos
Ethos is an appeal to character and/or ethics. It’s about likability and morality, things Aang has in spades. First of all, Aang is adorable and lovable. I mean just look at that face:
Secondly, as a pacifist, Aang has a very strong code of ethics, and uses it in everyday life. His morality plays a big role in the Gaang’s adventures, since his quest to stop the war and defeat the Fire Lord is the driving force behind the show. Because of who he is as a character, his ethics often come in direct conflict with the world around him. One great example is when he saves Zuko at the end of season 1, during Siege of the North: Part 2, because he knows it isn’t right to leave him out in the cold, even though he and Zuko are enemies, and Sokka doesn’t quite support his decision:
Aang: “Wait, we can’t just leave him here.”
Sokka: “Sure we can. Let’s go.”
Aang: “No. If we leave him here, he’ll die.”
Unfortunately, that same strong code of ethics causes him problems, because it makes him rigid and unwilling to compromise his beliefs. This often conflicts with other members of the Gaang, whose character and code of ethics differs from his own. In war, tough decisions need to be mad, and Aang has trouble with those, especially the possibility of killing the fire lord (which is tackled in The Phoenix King):
Aang: “Fire Lord Ozai is a horrible person, and the world would probably be better off without him, but there’s got to be another way.”
Aang: “This goes against everything I learned from the monks. I can’t just go around wiping out people I don’t like.”
Aang feels uncomfortable compromising his pacifist nature and killing the fire lord, even if he is a menace that might need to be killed.
While he ends up being able to take down the Fire Lord without killing him in the end, it took a lot of soul-searching and research in order to find a way. By the end of the series, Aang learns a lot about morality, and that even though he’s been able to work with his ethics beforehand, it’s not always going to work out that way. But he’ll certainly try.
Katara = Pathos
Pathos is an emotional appeal to an audience. How does this apply to Katara?
Well, Katara is a very emotionally-driven character. She loves and cares deeply about other people, especially the ones she loves. The Hundred Year War had a huge impact on Katara’s life: the Fire Nation disseminated her culture, killed her mother, and inadvertently took away her father as well, since he fought in the war after losing their mother. Where this might have shattered some, it strengthens Katara and her resolve to help others that the war has affected. The Greek word pathos actually has a dual meaning: “experience” and “suffering,” which applies to Katara well. She’s suffered a lot because of the war, so she better than anyone knows how to rouse sympathy and impact an audience.
Where Aang uses character in his arguments, Katara uses emotion. She’s the one who gives hopeful speeches and empowers those who have been oppressed to stand up for themselves and fight back against the people who have held them down. A great example of this is her speech during Imprisoned (starts at 11:57, ends around 12:48):
Just look at all the emphasis on emotional appeal in this speech!: “It is your courage they should truly fear! Because it runs deeper than any mine you’ve been forced to dig, any ocean that keeps you far from home! It is the strength of your hearts that make you who you are. Hearts that will remain unbroken when all rock and stone has eroded away.”
Katara appeals to the eartbenders with emotion in two ways: 1) by reminding them of their courage, and their inner strength, and 2) reminding them of what they should fight for: home, family, and their freedom.
While her speech initially doesn’t go over as well as she expects, it ends up having an effect later on, and allows the earthbenders to take back the power from their capturers and break free.
Of course, being driven by emotion isn’t always a good thing. For Katara, it means that when someone hurts her or betrays her, she can be unforgiving and unrelenting against them. She doesn’t forgive easily, and people who have left her – like her father – or hurt her – like Jet, and later Zuko, does – she finds it hard to forgive them and see past what they have done to her.
Example 1: Katara doesn’t believe in Zuko’s redemption arc, because he betrayed them in the past. For Katara, trust is a big thing, and she finds it hard to look past her emotions and realize that Zuko is making an effort to change.
Example #2: Katara bottles up her feelings about her father leaving her and Sokka during the war, which leads to an explosive confrontation later on:
It takes her time to move past the hurt she feels, and sometimes she lets it boil and simmer rather than facing her feelings and dealing with them. One of the most important parts of her character arc is learning to forgive, and learning not to hold onto anger and resentment. With her father, talking it out helps. With Zuko, it takes an adventure that teaches her they’re not so different after all, and that he really has changed into someone she – and the rest of the Gaang – can trust.
Sokka = Logos
Logos is a logical appeal. It means using facts, analogies and evidence to prove a claim to an audience. How does this apply to Sokka?
Sokka is a logic-driven character. He reasons through things. He’s the one who’s always telling Katara and Aang to think things through when they’re about to do something reckless. As he puts it, he is “the plan guy” of the group. While he’s a warrior, he is also brilliant and the group’s schemer. Whether intricate or on the spot, his ideas and instincts often help the Gaang accomplish things they wouldn’t otherwise. This is the guy who realizes that the best way to break the two groups trying to take them down in The Waterbending Scroll is to turn them against each other by offering Aang as incentive, then escaping in the ensuing fight over him. That’s a pretty clever on the spot plan to make.
One of Sokka’s best example of logos is when he reasons out a plan to protect the Northern Air Temple from Fire Nation troops. He commissions weapons to use in the attack, and since it’s an Air Temple, why not use gliders/balloons to dispense them. He also craftily solves how to control the hot air balloons:
The answer? A literal lid. “A lid is actually the answer. If you control the hot air, you control the war balloon,” he reasons. Very savvy. He also has a great impulsive idea during the attack.
Earlier in the episode, he and another character – the Mechanist – discover an egg-like odor by the temple and realize it’s natural gas. That comes into play later, when they end up throwing their engine into the source of the gas to defend against attackers, as seen here:
The main problem with Sokka being logic-driven is that sometimes, it backfires, because he often relies more on his own knowledge and instincts, rather than those of others. Example from Warriors of Kyoshi: Sokka doesn’t believe that the Kyoshi Warrior are efficient warriors, because he doesn’t believe women can fight as well as men can. He ends up underestimating them and being horribly wrong because of it.
(As you can see, it ends badly.)
But when Sokka’s pride is wounded, he’s willing to admit his mistakes, and more importantly, learn from them to avoid them in the future, as evidenced by his apology to Suki:
Sokka: “I would be honored if you would teach me.”
Suki: “Even if I’m a girl?”
Sokka: “I’m sorry if I insulted you earlier. I was … wrong.”
He’s smart enough to admit he messed up and that he wants to learn from her. Intelligence is good, but respecting other people’s intelligence and input is important as well, and Sokka learns that there’s always more he can be learning as the show goes on.
Do you think Aang, Katara and Sokka fit the ideals of ethos, pathos and logos? What another animated characters do you think display these traits? Let us know what you think in the comments!