Social classes are usually based upon titles, wealth, and power. Although people are mostly born into their social rank and remain there throughout their lives, there are exceptions in which people can gain a higher position through service, as occurred with Long Feng. In more recent years, with the founding of the United Republic of Nations, a person's acquired wealth or accomplishments can act as a substitute for the condition of their birth. Hiroshi Sato, for example, began as a shoeshiner and eventually became a world-famous industrialist through his invention of the Satomobile.
Council of Elders
Each air temple had its own council of head monks and nuns, who acted as both the political and religious authority. As the wisest members of their society, they were trusted with making decisions for the nation, as well as being afforded certain privileges such as entering the air sanctuary in each air temple. Like the Fire Sages of the Fire Nation, the councils had one Head Abbot or Mother Superior, whose authority exceeded that of the other sitting members.
All nomads were considered equal in social rank, a belief they incorporated in their teachings on how to live life. Due to their high level of spirituality, all Air Nomad citizens were benders, and thus their society did not suffer from the inequality between benders and nonbenders seen in other nations.
Views on wealthy foreigners
One of the more controversial issues in Air Nomad society was the fact that even though they renounced all worldly prosperity, the other nations were led by elite classes of royalty, nobility, or very wealthy and influential individuals. During periods of openness, many Air Nomads accepted that working with the elite classes was necessary and a means to the end of forging closer ties with the other nations so that they could reach more people and help the world.
Others were unwilling to work with those with a lot of worldly prosperity, who were unlikely to ever want to cede their own wealth and power. Some believed that forging ties with elites of other nations was hurting the spiritual growth of all people. These opposing views generated a lot of internal discourse in Air Nomad society, and led to the order known as the Guiding Wind splitting from the temples. The Guiding Wind believed there should be no relationship between the Air Nomads and the elites of the other nations, but gladly accepted foreign nobles into their order if they renounced their wealth and titles, believing this to be the ultimate fist to the concept of nobility.
Views on sexuality
In the air temples, the Air Nomads did not hide whom they loved. They were accepting of differences and embraced everyone, regardless of their gender and their sexual orientation. While the temples were traditionally segregated by gender, the Air Nomads were accepting of transgender and non-binary people. Before the genocide, Air Nomad philosophies meant children were raised by the community rather than a dual-parent home, although Air Nomads were aware of their relatives and sometimes had close relationships with them. Two Air Nomads of the same gender could also be considered parents of the same child. The communities welcomed people from all walks of life.
The Air Nomads customarily greeted people by bowing with their palms pressed together, fingers pointed toward the sky.
Following the end of the Hundred Year War, several fan clubs devoted to Avatar Aang sprung up. While Aang himself was opposed to these clubs' attempts to emulate Air Nomad society, he eventually realized that his culture should not only belong to the past and reformed the clubs into the Air Acolytes, teaching them all about Air Nomad practices and traditions.
Following the restoration of the air temples, Aang repopulated them with the acolytes though did not reinstate the gender separation. Historically, the Northern and Southern Air Temples exclusively housed monks, while the Eastern and Western Temples housed nuns. While the quarters of male and female acolytes are separated, they mingle together freely within each temple.
While the Air Nomads were regarded as monks, the leader of the acolytes is referred to as "abbot".
Water Tribe society differs between the Southern Water Tribe and Northern Water Tribe. The Northern Water Tribe has a hereditary chiefdom and a known noble class. Meanwhile, Southern leadership is generally more egalitarian, with chiefs simply being respected individuals, although wealth has been important in Southern social divisions during its more prosperous periods of history.
Northern Water Tribe
The Northern Water Tribe differs from the Southern Water Tribe through its more complex social hierarchy, based on long-standing traditions. This was pointed out by Hahn while he was berating Sokka's surprise and displeasure on the subject of Yue's arranged marriage.
In the Northern Water Tribe, the chief is considered royalty to some extent, as his daughter carries the title of Tribal Princess, a position of great cultural prominence. The chief makes decisions for the tribe and can probably create and abolish certain laws and customs. Arranged marriage, however, does not seem to be one of them, meaning that the power of the chief does have limits. For example, Chief Arnook stated that he could not force Master Pakku to take back pupils if he did not want them, even if that pupil is the Avatar. There is also a known upper class of the Northern Water Tribe that are considered nobility.
Southern Water Tribe
Before their independence, the Southern Water Tribe, a federation of autonomous tribes, was ruled by the Northern Water Tribe chief. Due to the Hundred Year War, however, the tribes drifted apart, and the Northern chief became little more than a figurehead to the South. The chiefdoms of the South were governed by a supreme Council of Elders, comprised of both men and women, although each chieftain had the authority to make decisions for his own people and even go to war. Unlike the descendants of the Northern chief, the children of Southern chiefs did not hold the title of "Prince" or "Princess", as Southern chiefs were not royalty.
After the Hundred Year War, the Southern tribes elected a local chief to serve as Head Chieftain of the Southern Water Tribe, a position that, while far more prestigious, was still subservient to the Chief of the North. Hakoda was the first to hold this position. After the South fully gained independence in 171 AG, Tonraq was appointed Chief of the South by the Southern Council of Elders.
In the Northern Water Tribe, the chief has advisers to help him make decisions. They seem to be in position of high authority, as they sit beside the chief during meetings and other events. Even though the chief has more power than these advisers, they are still important members of the Northern Water Tribe society. Known advisers are the tribe's waterbending master, Pakku, and the chief's daughter, Princess Yue.
Northern Water Tribe
The citizens of the Northern Water Tribe are bound by a cultural code that dictates social expectations for each gender. In practice, female benders were expected to learn the healing aspect of waterbending, whereas male benders were expected to learn the combative aspect.
After the Hundred Year War, the North's patriarchal traditions were abandoned. By 102 AG, female waterbenders such as Malina showed aptitude in combat and could be found working as architects, engineers, or leading restoration efforts such as the Southern Reconstruction Project.
Southern Water Tribe
In the Southern Water Tribe, all of the tribe's members, even the chief's children, are considered average citizens and have also been referred to as peasants. Due to the devastation of the Hundred Year War, almost everyone in the South lived in poverty. However, in more prosperous times, individual citizens could become extremely wealthy, such as the business magnate Tiqriganiannig who lived in the South before the Hundred Year War.
Before the Southern Water Tribe raids, a substantial proportion of the citizens were waterbenders and there were no clear social differences for warriors, as both male and female warriors were defending the city. However, the raids later left the tribe with only one bender, Katara.
In Korra's era, the tribe has advanced. Cultural festivals and larger living areas were more common, as the post-war population boom led to the Southern Water Tribe being larger than it ever has been before. A class of wealthy elite has also resurfaced, with businesspeople like Varrick being some of the richest people in the world.
Views on sexuality
The Water Tribes are generally accepting of different sexual orientations, and it is atypical for families to disown children for coming out. However, it is Water Tribe tradition to keep personal matters private, and Water Tribe culture encourages people to keep their sexuality to themselves. Chiefs Desna and Eska decreed that gender plays no role in who can and cannot marry each other, and attended many same-sex weddings, even after they received pushback about the decree. Their cousin, Avatar Korra, being out about her relationship with Asami Sato also inspired many queer Water Tribe members to come out.
The Earth Kingdom is the largest of the four nations in terms of geographical area and population. Because of its vastness, the Earth Kingdom has a diverse range of people, with a correspondingly more stratified social hierarchy. Their economy is pre-industrial, with rampant poverty and inequality.
The Earth King or Earth Queen is the ruler of the Earth Kingdom. He or she occupies the highest social position in the entire kingdom, and his or her palace and seat of government are located in the Upper Ring of the kingdom's capital, Ba Sing Se.
Previous Earth Monarchs exercised tremendous authority over the whole kingdom. Recently, a conspiracy led to the decline of this position from a true leader to a mere figurehead, as was the circumstance of the 52nd Earth King, Kuei; the Earth King was treated as if he were a god to the citizens. When Kuei returned to power at the end of the Hundred Year War, with the conspiracy broken, he took the Earth King's original role in society. His daughter, however, reasserted the god-like position of the monarch and demanded absolute loyalty from the citizens. Furthermore, she treated any level of disrespect toward her and her position as a severe crime punishable by imprisonment or even death.
As a decentralized monarchy, the Earth Kingdom has a number of leaders who exercise power over individual parts of the Earth Kingdom. While the Earth Monarch has final authority over such leaders, these leaders do have considerable power over their lands.
- Monarch of Omashu - Omashu, a largely autonomous city in the Earth Kingdom, also has its own regional monarch. They, however, are not powerful enough to fall in the Earth Monarch's social class, as only the sole leader of the Earth Kingdom executes the title, and they remain subordinate to Ba Sing Se.
Council of Five
The Council of Five is a group of the five most powerful generals of the Earth Kingdom. They are held in high respect. The Council of Five have very high authority and an extremely high social status, as they control the entire military.
Grand Secretariat of Ba Sing Se
The Grand Secretariat is a position held by the Leader of the Government of Ba Sing Se. It is their job to maintain law and order in the bustling city. This position is considered a high social status, due to it serving as one of the prime advisers for the Earth King. However, during Hou-Ting's rule, the Grand Secretariat served solely at the pleasure of the monarch.
Nobles in the Earth Kingdom lead lives of wealth and luxury. Many live within the walls of the Upper Ring of Ba Sing Se, though there are also other nobles scattered throughout the Earth Kingdom, such as the Beifong family in Gaoling and the Te family in the Eastern Provinces. These families are some of the wealthiest in the Earth Kingdom and are afforded great respect and privilege throughout the nation. By the time of Queen Hou-Ting, most residents of Ba Sing Se's Upper Ring descended from families that had been rich for so many generations that their members no longer understood what "honest work" actually meant.
Middle class citizens
Not much has been revealed about the middle class populace of the Earth Kingdom. It has been shown, however, that they do retain many rights and opportunities, as Long Feng was born as a middle class citizen and he eventually was able to secure a position as the Grand Secretariat of Ba Sing Se. Middle class citizens are also able to afford an education, as Ba Sing Se University is located in Ba Sing Se's Middle Ring.
Lower class citizens
The vast majority of the Earth Kingdom population consists of lower-class citizens, although the meaning of the term can vary depending on location. In rural areas and small towns, many people may be poor and considered lower-class citizens, but their lives are rarely portrayed as worse because of that status. By contrast, in Ba Sing Se, these people are sequestered in the Lower Ring, rendering it densely populated, poverty stricken, and crime-ridden. During the Hundred Year War, the amount of people in this class rose, as people from all around the kingdom were forced to leave their properties, turning to a refugee's life, or were otherwise affected by the war.
However, despite their poverty and political disenfranchisement, the peasants have proven throughout history that they are not completely helpless, as they rose up in revolt against the 46th Earth King's tyranny. Deciding that the king did not represent their interests, the peasants of Ba Sing Se seized control of the capital until Avatar Kyoshi forced the king to accept a new constitution and to hear the peasants' grievances. To the dismay of the peasants, this new constitution made it possible for corruption to spread, as the state police force established by Kyoshi, the Dai Li, were eventually able to reduce the king to a mere figurehead and assume power for themselves. Consequently, the situation of the peasants did not improve.
Views on sexuality
For the most part, the Earth Kingdom has been slow in accepting people who are not heterosexual, even going as far as being militaristically repressive. Even Avatar Kyoshi, who openly loved both men and women, was unable to effect any kind of real progress. However, some communities within the country, such as Maizu Village, were more tolerant, with same-sex marriage made legal there by 99 AG.
Polygamy has been a known practice by some male Earth Monarchs.
Members of the Earth Kingdom customarily greet people by bowing with their right hand enclosed into a fist covered by their left hand. Both palms tilt up, moderately stretching the wrists, to face each other rather than the ground.
The Fire Nation is the preeminent society among the four nations, dominant in economic, political, and military power. It is an authoritarian state headed by its traditional monarch, the Fire Lord. Unlike the other nations, the Fire Nation is industrialized, socially progressive, and united around a nationalist identity that is indoctrinated into its youth. The majority of its citizenry lives in relative prosperity and education is available to all; however, poverty is still rampant in outlying island villages such as Jang Hui.
The Fire Lord is the supreme ruler of the entire Fire Nation and wields absolute power; anything he or she proclaims becomes law. The Fire Lord has the highest social rank in the Fire Nation.
"Fire Lord" is a title and is not gender bound, as Ozai appointed Azula as the new Fire Lord after his coronation as Phoenix King, and Zuko eventually relinquished the throne to his daughter, Izumi, making her Fire Lord. However, Izumi is the first woman to ascend to the throne in generations, as Zuko had interrupted Azula's ceremony before she could be crowned.
The Fire Lord's power increased during the Hundred Year War, not only globally as a result of the Fire Nation's subjugation of the other nations, but also within the nation itself. Fire Lord Sozin used his position to seize land for state projects and placed emphasis on absolute loyalty of all citizens, including the Fire Sages. Furthermore, Sozin and other wartime Fire Lords tightened their hold over the Fire Nation citizenry by rewriting history and indoctrinating their youth.
The children of the Fire Lord possess a social status second only to the Fire Lord. The eldest child of the Fire Lord is considered the next heir to the throne. Citizens of all ranks are expected to show them deference.
Fire Sages, nobles, and high ranking military officials
Nobles form the upper crust in Fire Nation society and have the possibility to befriend, marry and work with the Royal Family. Nobles include Rangi, Avatar Roku, Ta Min, Princess Ursa, Mai's family, and Ty Lee's family. The children of Fire Nation nobility often attend prestigious schools, such as the Royal Fire Academy for Girls.
The Fire Nation's noble clans descended from the warlords who ruled the Fire Islands before its unification, and thus retained the privileges of ruling their home islands and keeping household troops. Known clans of the Fire Islands were the Saowon, Keohso, Sei'naka, Inta, and Lahaisin clans. Following the Camellia-Peony War, Fire Lord Zoryu resolved to render the clans irrelevant, even those that supported him, believing that his rule would be threatened as long as the clans retained power. The status of the clans as powerful warring families was finally broken once and for all during the early reign of Fire Lord Sozin. However, the nobility as a social class were still very important, and the government's popularity among the nobility was considered crucial to its success in being able to enforce control and implement policies.
The Fire Sages are the religious authority of the Fire Nation, and they once led the Fire Nation. However, when the title of Fire Lord was created, they slowly lost their power. When Sozin became Fire Lord, he forced the Fire Sages to pledge allegiance to him. This resulted in their disloyalty to the Avatar during the Hundred Year War.
Though the Fire Sages lost their power, they maintained their status and influence. They maintained their own archives and crowned new Fire Lords, being present at Ozai, Azula, and Zuko's coronations; this job is performed by the High Sage.
High-ranking military officials
During the Fire Nation's hundred year war for world domination, military officials became of great importance. High military officials are very respected in the Fire Nation society. High Admirals and High Generals fall under this position. They seem to act as the Fire Lord's advisers and are usually present during war meetings.
The Fire Nation possesses an industrialized economy, fueled by raw resources extracted from oversea colonies. They possess a robust middle class, with a large degree of disposable income and liberal social protocols, especially among its youth. Education is widespread, though its primary purpose seems to be for indoctrination.
During the Hundred Year War, the Fire Lord expanded the territory of the Fire Nation to access the resources of the Earth Kingdom, populating oversea colonies with forcibly relocated peasants. Over time, these grievances were forgotten, and the colonies themselves became prosperous, so much so that the citizens resisted efforts to return them to the Fire Nation. Still, mainland citizens looked down upon those from the colonies, regarding them to be uncultured.
Although the majority of the Fire Nation is wealthy compared to the other nations, many living in the outlying islands still reside in poverty. An example would be the villagers of Jang Hui. Like in the Earth Kingdom, these peasants have little to no political rights, and they are often subject to oppression and forced relocation.
Views on sexuality
For most of its history, the Fire Nation was tolerant of people with diverse sexual orientations, and same-sex marriage was permitted. However, when Sozin came into power, he made same-gender relationships a criminal offense. In spite of these laws, an underground community of people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identity still persevered in the Fire Nation during the Hundred Year War.
It is traditionally acceptable for male Fire Lords to have mistresses before marriage. Fathers are expected to acknowledge any children born outside of wedlock to noble mothers, in order to avoid dishonoring her clan. Although illegitimate children may be accepted as part of their family, they may also be placed behind any legitimate siblings in the line of succession.
Members of the Fire Nation customarily greet people by bowing with their right hand, enclosed into a fist, placed directly beneath their left hand, kept straight, so that the bottom-right corner of the left hand touches the top-left corner of the right hand. The right palm faces the body and does not tilt relative to the wrist. The left palm faces the right hand, though still positioned above, and tilts up at a ninety degree angle relative to the wrist.
United Republic of Nations
The United Republic was founded by Avatar Aang and Fire Lord Zuko upon the notion that benders and nonbenders would be able to "live and thrive together in peace and harmony," and people from all over the world immigrated there from their own native lands to attain this equality themselves. Judging by the country's former governmental bench that held no nonbenders and heightened poverty rates in the ghettos of nonbenders, coupled with bending-based crime triads that exercise their abilities to extort the nonbending population, this utopian goal is far from established in the main city. However, the goal seems more established in an underground community of vagabonds, where benders and nonbenders live in harmony.
United Republic Council
The United Republic Council was the governmental body of the United Republic of Nations composed of representatives from the Air Nation, Northern and Southern Water Tribes, Earth Kingdom, and Fire Nation. The members of the Council convened for regular meetings in City Hall to discuss political affairs, like passing new laws, and were also tasked with weighing the good against the bad in certain situations and deciding whether or not to act on threats against the people's well-being. This system was more focused on the government taking its citizens' needs into consideration as opposed to the autocracy of the Fire Nation or the Earth Kingdom's monarchy. However, the Anti-bending Revolution proved that the Council was unable to represent the interests of the majority and could not handle the challenges of new political movements. Subsequently, in early 171 AG, the council was abolished and a native citizen of the United Republic was elected the nation's first president.
Nobles are not a class in the United Republic because of the nation's break from the traditional governing systems of the world. This makes wealth in the United Republic something that must be striven for, not something that one is simply born into. Sports like pro-bending have given way to high-paying jobs for proprietors of such businesses. The automobile industry has also proven to be an undertaking of great profit. With Republic City being the capital of both the nation and its commerce, it can be logically assumed that most citizens with this status reside there. Some such examples are Hiroshi Sato and Butakha.
- See also: Anti-bending Revolution
The middle and lower classes of the United Republic can be described by the unintentional bias that the nation holds toward its bending population in terms of power and status.
The United Republic Council was made up solely of benders in 170 AG. While the inclusion of representatives from each continent should in theory have created an equal balance in power, this power was distributed among benders only. This was not always the case in the council, but the truth of bias among government officials was made an undeniable fact when four of the five councilmen incited a curfew for nonbenders because the council suspected they were all Equalists who would attempt to overthrow the council, a decision brought on by prejudice and mass hysteria. Many poorer citizens are nonbenders, with the large majority of the Dragon Flats borough being inhabited by nonbenders.
Oftentimes bending triads take advantage of theirs and the nonbenders' positions in society for their own personal gain, as seen when the Triple Threats attempted to extort an innocent nonbending citizen.
The tensions came to a head when the Equalists managed to take over Republic City for a brief time before being defeated by Avatar Korra, her friends and allies, and the United Forces, with Amon's identity as a bender being exposed. In the aftermath, many moderates were satisfied with their new political representation after the United Republic Council was abolished and replaced with a directly elected president. However, there were still tensions between benders and nonbenders due to new technology, a small group of militant Equalists, and some benders that remained hypervigilant in identifying suspected Equalists.
Views on sexuality
The Avatar is in a social class of their own, being unique in the world. Before the Hundred Year War, the Avatar was considered to be without equal, a sacred being representing the principle of balance: All of the Fire Sages, the assembled Fire Nation nobility, and Crown Prince Sozin all bowed to Roku when he was revealed as the new Avatar. Also, the Avatar is revered and loved by the general populace, with shrines and temples across the four nations dedicated to them, and spiritual groups tending to places connected to Avatar history. The people of the four nations viewed the Avatar as the supreme arbiter of any injustice done upon them or the world in general, vested with the power and authority of the great spirit of the World.
While the Avatar exercises no official or formal political authority – a rare known exception being Avatar Szeto, who became a Fire Nation bureaucrat, diplomat, accountant, and Grand Advisor in service of Fire Lord Yosor – they have taken a stand on political issues in the name of keeping the world in balance. Their opinions are not to be dismissed lightly, as exemplified by Kyoshi browbeating the Earth King into accepting a compromise and Roku standing up to Fire Lord Sozin to prevent a Fire Nation invasion of the Earth Kingdom. Avatar Korra also had no qualms about siding with her own people during the Water Tribe Civil War, despite protestations for her neutrality.
The Avatar is required to do what it takes to bring balance to the world and thus is not able to claim total allegiance only to their native nation or rigidly conform to specific cultural norms. Examples of this include Avatar Yangchen, who was willing to resort to lethal methods, although that is against Air Nomad beliefs, Avatar Kyoshi, who defied the Earth King, and Avatar Roku, who threatened to end Fire Lord Sozin's life if he were to continue Fire Nation colonization of the Earth Kingdom. At the same time, however, the Avatar cannot act as if they are completely above the law of any established government. Statutes of a given nation still apply to the Avatar, at least in recent times, as evidenced when Korra was arrested for creating civil disruption in Republic City. Nonetheless, detention of the Avatar by a nation could trigger an international incident.
The Avatar may have a family and own property in the same manner as ordinary citizens, as evidenced by Roku living with his wife Ta Min on a remote island. The Avatar is also not prohibited from taking up a secondary profession, as Aang stated he saw no reason why he could not be in the business of jewelry making as well as the Avatar, and Korra competed on the Fire Ferrets Pro-Bending team while residing in Republic City. The quintessential duty of the Avatar, however, is to the world rather than personal affairs or interests.
- At some point prior to 296 BG, corporal punishment was considered a normal form of discipline for masters to use on insubordinate students.