The Psychology of Azula

An analysis of Azula from Avatar the Last Airbender

The Psychology of Azula

My own mother thought I was a monster… She was right of course but it still hurt.

Azula speaking on her mother’s opinion of her. 

In my humble opinion, Azula from Avatar the Last Airbender is the most complex character motive-wise in the show. From her extensive trauma to the way it presents itself inside her, she is an extremely interesting and deep character.


Her story starts as a young child. In the season 2 episode “Zuko Alone”, it is revealed that her mother always favored her older brother, Zuko. He was calm and kind-natured, which appealed to his mother. Azula always wanted her mother to love her as much as she loved Zuko, but Azula didn’t know how to make her mother love her. In this same episode, Azula is seen taunting Zuko and taking pleasure in his pain. This is a manifestation of Azula’s craving for her mother’s love. Zuko had always taken away what she most wanted, and seeing him in pain brought a sense of sadistic satisfaction to her. 

Azula’s mother thought there was something wrong with her daughter, sensing the underlying sadistic personality she had. When their mother left the castle after King Azulon’s death, Azula on the outside appeared unaffected, making fun of her brother in light of the incident. However, she never really recovered, seen by her hallucination in the last episode, which I will touch on later. 


In a way, Azula always tried to get power by mimicking her father. We can see this in “The Day of Black Sun,” the episode where the gang invades the Fire Nation. Two scenes are mirrored together, Azula taunting Aang, Sokka, and Toph, and Fire Lord Ozai taunting Zuko. The way that it flicks between the two characters, showing their similar lying skills, manipulation, and power tactics is very showing to the way their characters are similar. 

In that episode, we saw the parallels between them. However, there is no denying that Azula is submitting to her father’s ways to please him. In “Sozin’s Comet,” when Azula is left behind by her father as he is going to defeat the Avatar, she is distraught. She has worked her whole life to get to the level of respect where her father would see her as a powerful resource, and in a moment it was taken away. This moment is really the catalyst for her inevitable breakdown. 


Her whole life, Azula demonstrated her power by taking power over her best friends, Mai and Ty-Lee. We see that at their cores, these two are good people. They show care for Azula and Zuko, and are both apprehensive about hunting down the Avatar at first. Despite the main reason for Mai and Ty-Lee being in Azula’s life being a control factor, we see her being more vulnerable with them than anyone else, even if it isn’t much. In the episode “The Beach,” Azula reveals for the first time how her mother’s coldness really affected her. She plays it off, but it is the most she ever revealed about herself that wasn’t manipulation.

Azula had only Mai and Ty-Lee in the world. Their relationship to her meant power, but also security. This all changes in the episode “The Boiling Rock”. In this episode, Sokka and Zuko have gone to the high-security prison The Boiling Rock in an attempt to break out Sokka’s father and Suki. The gang is hanging on a gondola over the boiling hot moat surrounding the prison, and Azula orders Mai and Ty-Lee to kill them, dropping the gondola into the water. Mai refuses. Her love for Zuko proves stronger than her fear for Azula, and she defends them. Following soon after, Ty-Lee immobilizes Azula, betraying her as well. 

The two of them leave Azula, after letting Sokka and Zuko go. In this one moment, Azula has lost two things: the only people in the world she truly trusted, and the only perceived power she ever had. With Mai admitting she loved Zuko more than she feared Azula, she showed Azula her “power” wasn’t really as powerful as she thought it was. 


Earlier, I mentioned Azula’s breakdown. In the last episode “Sozin’s Comet,” Azula’s past and trauma overtakes her. Getting ready for her coronation as Fire Lord, she banishes a worker for leaving a pit in her cherry, which could have been a potential choking hazard. Along with this, she dismisses the majority of the castle crew. This is a manifestation of her desire to be perfect for her father in way of paranoia and fear. 

Everyone gone, Azula is left alone in the castle. She tries to get herself ready, putting up her hair and putting on her makeup. When she fails, she cuts a chunk of her hair. Staring at herself, almost maniacally, she decides she never cared about her hair anyways. She hears a voice behind her and sees her mother. Her mother remarks that Azula always had such beautiful hair and that she had always loved her. 

The only time Azula ever received the love she most dearly desired was in a hallucination, in her darkest moment. This shows us something very important though, that it was good that the person she saw in her darkest moment was her mother, showing that she really did love her mother, deep inside. 

The last time we see Azula is in her final Agni-Kai with Zuko. They battle, and even Zuko can tell there is something wrong with her. She is unhinged. Azula takes a final aim and tries to hit Katara. Zuko is wounded defending her, and Azula ultimately loses to Katara. When she does, she lashes out completely. Thrashing and spurting fire and then sobbing. It is a shocking end to a shocking character. We see her entire future ripped away, her power and prowess destroyed.


Overall, Azula is a damaged character, mostly stemming from her pressured and unloving childhood, manifesting in a need to be the best, and to hold power. Her life from childhood to the inevitable end is as devastating as it is interesting.