Appearing in an episode named “The Great Divide”, and living in a canyon called the Great Divide [ATLA, 1.11], canyon crawlers stand out as a monster of separation.
“The monster is difference made flesh, come to dwell among us” -Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Monster Culture (Seven Theses)
In “The Great Divide”, we meet the Gan Jin and Zhang tribes, feuding Earth Kingdom tribes. Each distrusts the other deeply and resents the possibility of the other tribe prospering. Against the warnings of their guide across the Great Divide, they each secretly bring food into the canyon. Through the lens of Cohen’s fourth thesis (41), we see this divide between their tribes physically manifest in the form of the canyon crawlers coming after their food. When the guide’s arms are broken in a fight with a canyon crawler, it becomes evident that the two tribes must spend the night in the canyon. Instead of the monster come to dwell among them, they must now dwell among the monsters.
Because the canyon crawlers exist regardless of these two tribes’ actions but only cause problems upon their disagreement, they convey that these issues of fear and distrust of others in our society are always nearby and around us, but it is ultimately our choices that create the disasters. Similarly, we see through the episode that difference is not the monster at all, but that we create monsters for ourselves by fearing difference.
When they ultimately defeat the monstrous situation they are in, it is through giving up the food they had each brought as an advantage over the other tribe. The feud between them ends less monstrously – a story made up by Aang to reconcile their differing histories – but carries the same message: we may have differences, but we can respect those differences enough to share the same playing field.