Travels with Charley (Steinbeck)

Travels with Charley: In Search of America
John Steinbeck, 1962
Penguin Group USA
224 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780140053203


Summary
To hear the speech of the real America, to smell the grass and the trees, to see the colors and the light—these were John Steinbeck's goals as he set out, in September 1960, at the age of fifty-eight, to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years.

With Charley, his French poodle, Steinbeck drives through scenic backroads and speeds along anonymous super high-ways. This chronicle of their trip, a picaresque tale, follows the two as they meander from small towns to growing cities to glorious wilderness oases.

Travels with Charley is animated by Steinbeck’s attention to the specific details of the natural world and his sense of how the lives of people are intimately connected to the rhythms of nature—to weather, geography, the cycle of the seasons. His keen ear for the transactions among people is evident, too, as he records the interests and obsessions that preoccupy the Americans he encounters along the way. He dines with truckers, encounters bears at Yellowstone and old friends in San Francisco. And he reflects on the American character, racial hostility, on a particular form of American loneliness he finds almost everywhere, and on the unexpected kindness of strangers that is also a very real part of our national identity.

Originally published in 1962, Travels provides an intimate and personal look at one of America’s most beloved writers in the later years of his life—a self-portrait of a man who never wrote an explicit autobiography. It was written during a time of upheaval and racial tension in the South—which Steinbeck witnessed firsthand—and is a stunning evocation of America on the eve of a tumultuous decade. (Adapted from the publisher.)



Author Bio 
Birth—February 27, 1902
Where—Salinas, California USA
Death—December 20, 1968
Where—New York, NY
Education—Studied marine biology at Stanford University,
   1919-25
Awards—Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, 1940;
   Nobel Prize, 1962.


John Ernst Steinbeck, Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner, was born in Salinas, California February 27, 1902. His father, John Steinbeck, served as Monterey County Treasurer for many years. His mother, Olive Hamilton, was a former schoolteacher who developed in him a love of literature. Young Steinbeck came to know the Salinas Valley well, working as a hired hand on nearby ranches in Monterey County.

In 1919, he graduated from Salinas High School as president of his class and entered Stanford University majoring in English. Stanford did not claim his undivided attention. During this time he attended only sporadically while working at a variety jobs including on with the Big Sur highway project, and one at Spreckels Sugar Company near Salinas.

Steinbeck left Stanford permanently in 1925 to pursue a career in writing in New York City. He was unsuccessful and returned, disappointed, to California the following year. Though his first novel, Cup of Gold, was published in 1929, it attracted little literary attention. Two subsequent novels, The Pastures of Heaven and To A God Unknown, met the same fate.

After moving to the Monterey Peninsula in 1930, Steinbeck and his new wife, Carol Henning, made their home in Pacific Grove. Here, not far from famed Cannery Row, heart of the California sardine industry, Steinbeck found material he would later use for two more works, Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row.

With Tortilla Flat (1935), Steinbeck's career took a decidedly positive turn, receiving the California Commonwealth Club's Gold Medal. He felt encouraged to continue writing, relying on extensive research and personal observation of the human drama for his stories. In 1937, Of Mice and Men was published. Two years later, the novel was produced on Broadway and made into a movie. In 1940, Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Grapes of Wrath, bringing to public attention the plight of dispossessed farmers.

After Steinbeck and Henning divorced in 1942, he married Gwyndolyn Conger. The couple moved to New York City and had two sons, Thomas and two years later, John. During the war years, Steinbeck served as a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. Some of his dispatches reappeared in Once There Was A War. In 1945, Steinbeck published Cannery Row and continued to write prolifically, producing plays, short stories and film scripts. In 1950, he married Elaine Anderson Scott and they remained together until his death.

Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 "for his realistic as well as imaginative writings, distinguished by a sympathetic humor and keen social perception." In his acceptance speech, Steinbeck summarized what he sought to achieve through his works:

Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it and it has not changed except to become more needed. The skalds, the bards, the writers are not separate and exclusive. From the beginning, their functions, their duties, their responsibilities have been decreed by our species.... Furthermore, the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity of greatness of heart and spirit—gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and emulation. I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature...

Steinbeck remained a private person, shunning publicity and moving frequently in his search for privacy. He died on December 20, 1968 in New York City, where he and his family made a home. But his final resting place was the valley he had written about with such passion. At his request, his ashes were interred in the Garden of Memories cemetery in Salinas. He is survived by his son, Thomas. (Author bio from Barnes & Noble, courtesy of the National Steinbeck Center.)



Book Reviews 
(Older books have few, if any, mainstream press reviews online. See Amazon and Barnes & Noble for helpful customer reviews.)



 

Discussion Questions 
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Travels with Charley:

1. What anxieties do people express to Steinbeck, and how do those fears affect the political atmosphere? Are there similarities between that time and ours—the nuclear vs. terrorist threat?

2. Steinbeck considers that radio and teen popular music will minimize regional differences. Fifty years later, was he right? And is this good or badt?

3. Compare Steinbeck's assessment of technology in the 1960's with new technologies of today. What are the impacts, in his day and ours? Are they similar or different; good or harmful?

4. How has car travel changed over the past 50 years? (Think local vs. chain motels and restaurants, country roads v. the Interstate.)

5. To what extent does geography reflect (or cause?) Americans' attitudes then...and now. What regional attitudes did Steinbeck encounter? Are they different or similar today.

6. Talk about Lonesome Harry and what he represents.

7. What is Steinbeck's attitude toward immigration and idea of America as a "melting-pot"? What did it mean to be an American in the 1960's vs. today?

8. If you could change one thing in America, what would it be?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

top of page (summary)

 

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2020