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Sympathy & empathy, analysis of Suki, & relation of "Tokka" to Equalist tension

Suki joined the Kyoshi Warriors at age eight, and had become their leader within seven years at the very most. This implicitly suggests that she followed in the path of the Kyoshi Warriors dutifully throughout the intervening timing, and also that following said duty to the Island was the immediate social background to much of her late childhood and early teenage years, rather than her parents. As it was not until Team Avatar showed up that Kyoshi Island broke out of the isolationism it had kept itself to for most of the hundred years of the War, Suki would have been used to dutiful work being rewarded by "society at large" (namely, the society of the Island) while working on the presumption that the evils of war were predominating in the rest of the world because "the people out there" were not fulfilling their duties properly. This would both explain Suki's general sense of dutiful optimism as portrayed throughout the series, as well as her reasons for holding grudges against those who had wronged her as a Warrior (those who had done the very opposite of fulfilling their duties of keeping the peace) until they had proven their goodness to her (by showing their dutiful protection of what was right in the world, in various possible ways).

It was because of Team Avatar's rending asunder of this isolationist box, accidentally by leading the Fire Nation to the Island's doorstep and more directly by their decision to fight for the Island against the invaders despite not being natives themselves (which, according to Oyagi, "inspired her"), that Suki and the other Kyoshi Warriors left the Island and joined the general war effort against the Fire Nation. This, in turn, is what led toward her eventual reunion with Sokka, but also to her eventual capture by Princess Azula. In any event, the opening of Suki's moral horizon by Team Avatar is best seen as working to reconfirm her dutiful optimistic take on the world; her sense of duty lead her to the person she desired as if a direct reward for her good work (with little actually required on her part in the struggle to win him over, his circumstances seeming almost arranged to work in her favor at the time) and even the aberrant event of her falling into the clutches of Azula was correct through the good luck on her part that Sokka just happened to be looking for his father at the prison she was being kept at.

Because of her upbringing, Suki would seem to have a psychological tendency towards a dutiful optimistic sense of sympathetic idealism, which was re-affirmed when she left Kyoshi Island as if by pure luck and which affects everything that she does. In "The Boiling Rock" two-part episode (which I rewatched just yesterday), for example, she idealistically expects Sokka to arrive to free her (it is his duty as her boyfriend to show up to save her in her distress when she has no obvious way of escaping from her situation, after all - or so her line of thinking probably went), but turns around and is sympathetic to Sokka's need to save his father from the situation Sokka had landed him in, to the point of denying her own right to be freed if necessary - that would be his duty as a son, after all, and it is her place as his girlfriend to be sympathetic to him in such a situation. Another example of this can be found in "The Serpent's Pass": when Suki asks Sokka why he was being so protective of her the entire previous day and he responds by discussing the difficulty of loosing someone one cares about (specifically referring to the person he had lost at the North Pole), Suki seems to sympathize with him and feel sorry for him in his painful situation, despite idealistically equating it with her loss of him from her life when he left Kyoshi Island due to never having experienced great loss in her own life. From this, it ought to have been made sufficiently clear that "Tokka" shippers have stepped out of sync with the canon if they claim that it is impossible for Suki to be sympathetic towards Sokka.

However, it remains to be seen that Suki has the capability of being truly empathetic, as well as sympathetic, towards her current boyfriend. Though the life of a Kyoshi Warrior during the Island's isolationist period would not have been without its difficulties, it nevertheless seems to be the case that Suki found self-affirmation as a Kyoshi Warrior relatively easily as long as she kept to her duties. This would be a life worlds away from Sokka's, in which he lost his mother to the War, and soon afterwards the existence of a strong paternal figure in his life as well; a life which lacked any way in which he could find self-affirmation other than in an endless sibling rivalry with his sister. The question therefore exists about whether Suki can truly understand what it is like to be in Sokka's situation (which is what the word "empathy" means) and treat him accordingly, when her life so little resembles his own; her sympathy towards him may ultimately come to little in his life, if she does not understand enough about his situation to direct her feelings of sympathy toward him so that they actually help him deal with his situation in the manner proper to his moral self-actualization over time. Rather, it seems more likely that her dutiful optimism and his more pessimistic and cynical approach to life will only become polarized against one another with time, as they have little real commonality in their lives to reinforce any empathy they have for each other (as is necessary for two people to remain constant "neighbors" with one another as is demanded by a stable marriage).

While Toph hardly seems to be the sympathetic type of girl (at least at first sight), preferring to take the "tough it out" line to any given situation, the fact remains that she ends up becoming more of a tsundere type of character where Sokka is concerned on account of their similar lack of self-affirmation in the form of their parents early in life, which produces a deep sense of sympathetic empathy for him on her part (as clearly seen in their heart-to-heat in "The Runaway") on account of this being the portion of her life where she is also the most "soft" emotionally (so to speak). Because of this, Toph seems to understand him well enough to take his side and declare it "not his fault" when Azula pulled his "Sukka" strings during the Day of Black Sun, despite the unlikelihood of her having any feelings of sympathy toward him at that moment (he did just rush after her competition, after all); my guess is that Toph knows on some level that Suki represents his normally discounted ideals to Sokka, and that thus pyschologically he could not really prevent himself from rushing at Azula when his motivating ideals were threatened - it would be tatamount to masochistically forcing oneself into the line of fire for no reason at all.

Suki, of course, joins the group at the end of "The Boiling Rock", causing any "Tokka"-related plot development to fade into the background. In "The Ember Island Players", Suki is shown as becoming integrated into the close-knit group as a whole, though no real indication is given that anyone thought of her as more than "the girlfriend of Sokka who will now being following us around"; in the same episode, she pokes fun at the play's representation of Sokka repeatedly, but becomes touchy when he does likewise back to her. Most likely, she acts like this because she wishes to enjoy herself during this frivolous time off from her regular duties, even if it is at other's expense, but does not like the implication that she herself does not already live up to her ideals at every necessary point in time (which would, of course, ruin her current fun for her, as it would then easily become a potential threat to her doing so in the future). Toph, for her part, also enjoys how the play makes fun of Sokka (as well as everyone else - it's pretty safe to say that she got a giggle out of its portrayal of Suki as well, though that was never shown), but takes its portrayal of her in stride; for her, at least, the fun of the play came from its exaggeration of key features of her friends and her life with them so that the whole thing was made to look funny (even if this was initially more difficult for her to do in the case of herself), as a way of escaping the generally pessimistic view she generally regarded her life in for a short time. Even in the way that the two made fun of Sokka during the play, Toph shows a larger skew towards a empathetic Sokka-like take on the matter (in this case, that it really was not a matter to be bothered by, and that one should simply solider on through so as to continue enjoying the play as a whole) than did Suki, who switches from making fun of its representation of him, to sympathetically helping him change its portrayal of him slightly (a change she didn't actually seem to care much about in-and-of itself, but only seems to have done so that they could have time off together as boyfriend-girlfriend in peace).

If Toph does indeed on some level understand that Suki represents Sokka's ideals to him, this would go great lengths in explaining why she never obviously interfered with their relationship despite having a definite crush on him. Even when she jokingly tells Suki that the group would be fine with the two breaking up after Sokka tells her and Aang that the sand sculpture he had made was of his current girlfriend (which caused an unhappy look to appear on Toph's face before she forced herself to laugh), the implication is that Suki would have to be the one to break up with Sokka - which the other girl had no intention of doing on the basis of something so trivial. This would also work to explain why Toph sought "a life-changing experience" with Zuko the next day, and why she sought to achieve this through telling him her life story; if Suki was indeed Sokka's ideal girl, the pragmatic-minded Toph would eventually have to wonder why she herself was too "messed up", too "dirty" a girl to fill that spot, and would seek a way out of it if at all possible - via Zuko, who was the obvious choice given everyone else's recent field-trips with him, though this sadly didn't work out the way she planned. By the end of the finale, she seems to have toughened up to the situation and accepted Suki's place as Sokka's girlfriend and motivating ideal, but seems to consider those things in which Sokka and herself were similar (their similar sarcastic nature, their similar fighting spirit, etc. - all produced by similarities in their situations) as still their domain (judging by her reaction to Suki's attempt to join in their name-calling at the Fire Lord), and would likely stick by him empathetically as his very best friend no matter how the events of the future affected their lives - and not giving Suki much room to grow in an empathetic understanding of Sokka, having reserved all those areas for herself as his best friend (as she would have to, in order to have any basis on which to keep her mind sound while still allowing for Suki's existence as Sokka's girlfriend in the present).

Gene Yang (in the interview relayed by Kate.moon's blog) has informed the general fanbase that there will be "hints of the tension" that will eventually lead to the revolution of the Equalists in Legend of Korra even in the single week in which most of The Promise series will take place. He has not, however, given us any exact idea of what this will mean. We also know for certain that Sokka will be assisting Toph in the protection of her Metalbending school (at least for the second volume of The Promise). What occurs to me is that Toph and Sokka's interrelationship may be related to said tension in one way or another, either through tension in their platonic friendship on the basis of the nonbending of one of the members and the master bender status of the other, or as a sort of a symbol of nonbender-bender intergration which stands over and above the rising tension. Unless Mike, Bryan, and Gene Yang actually want the beloved characters of the original series to fall into the path of the Equalists for plot-related reasons (which I highly doubt), it would also seem very unlikely that they would plan to keep Sokka and Suki together on the basis of their mutual nonbending status alone (which is not to say that they couldn't be kept together upon some other primary basis), though many fans seem to consider this reason sufficient - this would bespeak too much of the "equal but seperate" understanding of segregationism for the writer's comfort, if they indeed think the matter out fully while writing it. Conversly, establishing the firmness of the sense of empathy between Sokka (the show's main nonbending character) and Toph (the show's greatest bender of a single element), upon which their tight friendship is built, would work to indicate that it is not impossible for members of the Avatar world to ignore one's particular bending or nonbending status when required to keep in view a sense of their mutual humanity, giving the fans a small inkling of hope for the future in "Legend of Korra". Given the above discussion of Toph's and Sokka's sense of empathy towards each other's situations, it would seem likely that the interest Sokka takes in Toph's development of Metalbending in "The Promise" foreshadows a greater intergration of the technological focus of the former and the elemental focus of the latter in Legend of Korra (as might be percieved in the use of technology by the Metalbender cops, and perhaps even in the personality of Chief Bei Fong herself - though I admit I cannot know the latter as of yet) ultimately built upon the basis of the two character's empathy for each other - and this would be better developed if the few remaining problematic matters in their friendship (namely, the presence of Suki as Sokka's girlfriend and motivating ideal) are settled.

If the polarization of the "Sukka" relationship is likely to happen overtime, it is also likely that she would fade as a representation of his ideals due to overriding real-world conflicts, and if Toph and Sokka continue to have a tight friendship built on mutual empathy towards each other (her original naive and somewhat idealistic crush on him having long since faded of internal necessity in order to keep Toph's mind stable, without any major heartbrokenness coming about from said release, due to its still self-unacknowledged state), it is also likely his passionate protection of his generally unacknowledged ideals in the form of Suki will fade only to be replaced by a more stable adherence to the more quiet yet more long-lasting form of motivation which comes from the well-springs of mutual empathy (in other words, though it would at first be hard to believe, from a long-term romantic relationship with Toph). Come to your own conclusions from the relayed plot development if you may; I myself cannot see any other results be produced in regards to the matter at hand.

Agree or disagree, please leave your thoughts on the views contained in the blog above in the comments section below.

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