Summary of Travel with Charley

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Having made his living writing about the country he felt increasingly isolated from, John Steinbeck began planning for a driving tour of America in 1960. Steinbeck looped over the top of the country, beginning at his home in Long Island, New York, traveling through Maine and across the upper United States to the Pacific Northwest before dropping down to his native Central Coast California, crossing the desert to Texas, and driving up through the Deep South to New York, a trip of almost 10,000 miles. Steinbeck was accompanied on his journey by his standard blue French poodle Charley. The journey was undertaken in a ¾-ton pick-up truck with a specially fitted camper shell, which Steinbeck nicknamed Rocinante, after Don Quixote’s stubborn horse.

The second section of Travels with Charley chronicles Steinbeck’s passage from Long Island to Connecticut, beginning with his ferry ride from Long Island, during which he watches several submarines surface and discusses them with a Navy submarine sailor. While the sailor speaks highly of the underwater crafts, confident that their technology represents a future of possibilities, Steinbeck can’t help but consider their darker nature, that “submarines are armed with mass murder, our silly, only way of deterring mass murder.” Several other themes emerge, including the fear of an uncertain future, which Steinbeck also discusses with his farmer friend, and the increasing homogeneity of the United States, symbolized by Top 40 radio, which made popular music popular nationwide. Steinbeck’s musings continue to focus on technology, especially the advancement of the vending machine, which he regards with much less suspicion than the nuclear submarines he encountered earlier. The first thing Steinbeck notices during his trek across the Midwest is how much its cities and towns have grown since the last time he was there. He attributes this to the growth of the family. Steinbeck finds the people of Midwest to be generally ore...
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