Natasha and Daniel represent two ends of a personality spectrum: Natasha is rational, scientific, and logical to a fault, while Daniel is a hopeless romantic and a poet. By exploring how Natasha and Daniel use what they learned from each other over the course of their one day together in New York to add more meaning and fulfillment to their lives, the novel suggests that passion and reason don't have to be enemies, as Natasha initially assumes. Rather, the novel suggests that it's more fulfilling and ultimately more successful to strike a happy medium between the two. Further, the novel shows that while reason absolutely has its place, having passion is important and can in some cases be life-saving.
Natasha spent her childhood watching her father, Samuel, who is extremely passionate about theater and acting, slowly crumble as director after director declined to cast him. This rejection ultimately sent Samuel into a deep depression that, in the present, sees him spending his days locked in the bedroom, reading and memorizing scripts, while Natasha's mother, Patricia, works long shifts at low-paying jobs to support their family singlehandedly. Though Natasha idolized her father when she was a child and was even considered to be a "dreamer" like him, his despondency at not being able to pursue his passion turns him into an angry, sad, unknowable figure. As such, Natasha turns to science, math, and concrete subjects to find comfort and stability in her life. Though she tries to understand her father even as his depression worsens, things change when Natasha overhears a conversation between her parents in which Samuel blames Patricia, Natasha, and Natasha's brother, Peter, for keeping Samuel from pursing his dream. Though this is an awful thing for any child to hear, the already scientifically and rationally inclined Natasha interprets her father's words and life trajectory to mean that he would choose passion over a "sensible" job that would support his family any day—a choice that Natasha has seen to be unsuccessful, unfulfilling, and impossible to maintain in a world where bills need to be paid. This all illustrates that what Natasha insists is a distrust or a dislike of passion is actually a fear of passion. After seeing the hurt her father's passion caused her family, Natasha believes that it's simply safer and better in the long run to make practical choices that are guaranteed to yield good results, rather than take a chance on following a passion.
Unlike Natasha, Daniel embraces his passion for poetry regardless of its practicality. He chooses poetry in part as a response to the example set out by his parents, just as Natasha chooses to be overwhelmingly rational in response to her father's unsuccessful pursuit of passion. Daniel's father, Dae Hyun, admits at several points that throughout his sons' lives, he's been purposefully cagey about why exactly he wants them to do the "correct," practical thing and attend prestigious schools to become doctors. Because Daniel never learns the reasoning behind this or, indeed, anything of what his parents' lives were like in South Korea, he's left believing that Dae Hyun is simply misinterpreting the American dream. He thinks his father believes there's only one way to achieve success—and that one way has nothing to do with passion. The reader, however, learns the truth: as a young man, Dae Hyun actually did reject what he was "supposed" to do. The first time his father took him out on a fishing boat as a teenager to prepare him for a life in the family crab-fishing business, Dae Hyun felt the same crushing anxiety about a life as a crabber that Daniel feels when he thinks about life as a doctor. Instead of becoming a crabber, Dae Hyun accepted help from a cousin, moved to New York, and opened a black hair care shop. The novel states that this is one of the most acceptable and, in some cases, lucrative markets for Koreans for a variety of economic and legal reasons. Even though Dae Hyun didn't choose the "correct" route set out for him by his father, he did choose a route that was far more likely to ensure financial security. In turn, an even greater sense of financial security is all he wants for his sons, he sees Daniel's love of poetry as a direct attack on this. As far as Dae Hyun is concerned, pursuing one's passion is something that one earns the right to do after one achieves financial success through practical means, as evidenced by the fact that he bought his wife, Min Soo, a painting set so that she could follow her passion of painting only after they achieved a certain degree of success through their business.
As Daniel and Natasha learn about each other over the course of the novel, Natasha is the one who goes through the most dramatic changes. Daniel teaches her that passion doesn't need to be an evil, destructive thing, which leads her to both ask her father to try harder to pursue his passion as well as discover her own: physics. When Irene, the flight attendant and narrator of the epilogue, notes that the adult Natasha has dyed pink tips on her hair, it also suggests that Natasha began following her dreams and accepting that frivolous and non-serious things can make her happy—dying her hair pink is something she admitted to Daniel that she was interested in doing during their day in New York. Though the novel doesn't state outright what Daniel becomes in adulthood, he does reject his father's wishes for him to be a doctor and earns an English degree from Hunter College, which doesn't even merit a place on his parents' list of "best schools." He also doesn't seem to look the part of the starving artist, per Irene's description of him. In this way, the novel allows both Natasha and Daniel to discover a happy medium between passion and reason—a middle road that allows both to find happiness, fulfillment, and a degree of financial success far greater than if they'd chosen simply one or the other.
Passion vs. Reason ThemeTracker
Passion vs. Reason Quotes in The Sun is Also a Star
When they say the heart wants what it wants, they're talking about the poetic heart—the heart of love songs and soliloquies, the one that can break as if it were just-formed glass.
They're not talking about the real heart, the one that only needs healthy foods and aerobic exercise.
Does he want to know how it feels to be undocumented? Or how I keep waiting for someone to find out I don't belong here at all?
Probably not. He's looking for facts, not philosophy, so I write them down.
I was so surprised by that. I thought I knew everything about my mom—about both of them, really—but here was this secret history I didn't know about. I asked her why she stopped and she waved her hand in the air like she was wiping the years away.
In modern times, the sisters have largely disappeared from the collective consciousness, but the idea of Fate hasn't. Why do we still believe? Does it make tragedy more bearable to believe that we ourselves had no hand in it, that we couldn't have prevented it? It was always ever thus.
The sheer number of actions and reactions it's taken to form our solar system, our galaxy, our universe, it's astonishing. The number of things that had to go exactly right is overwhelming.
Compared to that, what is falling in love? A series of small coincidences that we say means everything because we want to believe that our tiny lives matter on a galactic scale.
Yes, she'd been frustrated with him for years, but that one moment showed us all how far apart they really were now. Even Peter, who sides with my mother in all things, flinched a little.
Still. You couldn't fault her. Not really. My father had been dreaming his life away for years. He lived in those plays instead of the real world. He still does. My mother didn't have time for dreaming anymore.
Neither do I.
Should I tell him about my father's aborted dreams? Should I tell him that I think dreams never die even when they're dead? Should I tell him that I suspect my father lives a better life in his head?
I open my mouth to ask for more facts and specifics. I find them reassuring. The poem comes back to me. "'Hope' is the thing with feathers." I close my mouth. For the second time today I'm letting go of the details. Maybe I don't need them. It would be so nice to let someone else take over this burden for a little while.
Before these buildings were buildings, they were just the skeletons of them. Before they were skeletons, they were crossbeams and girders. Metal and glass and concrete. And before that, they were construction plans. Before that, architectural plans. And before that, just an idea someone had for the making of a city.
Sometimes I think my mom's worst fear is being disappointed. She combats this by trying her hardest never to get her hopes up, and urging everyone else to do the same.
"My parents are immigrants. They moved to this country for a better life. They work all the time so my brother and I can have the American Dream. Nowhere in the American Dream does it say you can skip college and become a starving artist."
"Yes," I say. "He would." But not because he's evil. And not because he's a Stereotypical Korean Parent. But because he can't see past his own history to let us have ours.
Because everything looks like chaos up close. Daniel thinks it's a matter of scale. If you pull back far enough and wait for long enough, then order emerges.
Maybe their universe is just taking longer to form.