Style and Technique
Told in the third person, Helprin’s “The Pacific” combines a straightforward story about two lovers parted by war with a quality of writing that—through the use of both tone and contrasts—raises the work to a different plane. Contrast is used often and effectively. The idyllic small California town contrasts sharply with the actions of the assembly line devoted to producing violence and to the distant war itself. The title, “The Pacific,” is a contrast to the carnage of battle. Paulette’s small hands produce items to be used on powerful fighter aircraft. To reach the defense factory at which Paulette had worked previously, she and the other workers walked silently through groves of orange trees to the war-making assembly line. The many contrasts between a physical setting of peace and beauty within the context of war and battle cannot fail to affect the reader.
The tone of Helprin’s writing creates a dreamlike quality. Lee remarks that he wishes to go to California because the light there gives one the feeling of living in a dream. As Helprin’s story follows Paulette, from the east coast to the west, from Los Angeles to the small town to the north, from the factory that will vanish when the war ends to her small house and garden, it is as if she exists, not necessarily passively, in circumstances that could make the “dreamer giddy.” The reader, too, cannot help but get caught up in that dreamlike world of war and longed-for peace.