“The Pacific” is the ironic title of this tale of war and is the theater of Lee’s battle, the ocean that separates yet connects the couple, and the seashore where Paulette waits and tries to work the miracle that will see to Lee’s safety. Helprin makes the reader wait for the last sentence of the story to find out whether she is successful.
Paulette and Lee do everything right and to the best of their ability. Lee tries to be the best soldier that he can be. In his military training, he marches for three days and nights and then stands guard over the rest of the unit. When sent to battle, he writes home that he will do his duty but refrain from unnecessary heroics that would put him in extra danger. Paulette is the one who, while essentially helpless, works the hardest at living a perfect life.
Paulette takes a job at a defense factory, situated picturesquely on the California coast, where she is a precision welder working on aircraft instruments. She works both obsessively, doing the job of two, and carefully, knowing that these instruments could end up in an airplane giving support to Lee’s infantry unit. She also keeps her spare time full by planting and tending a garden, choosing to carry her gardening tools on her shoulders the several miles from her home to the garden plot, suggesting a Christlike suffering and sacrifice.
Her job on the welding line gives Helprin the opportunity to take his favored light imagery to the limit. The flames and arcs of the welding are described as pure light, the very spark of existence. The assembly line, seen through the lens of the welders’ hood, looks like the birthplace of stars. This pure light compares also to the pure and intense love between Paulette and Lee and her intense effort, through the force of will, to create a miracle that will ensure his survival.