Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1962) recounts Steinbeck’s trip around the United States during the winter of 1960, accompanied by his giant French poodle, Charley. They traveled in a specially prepared truck named after Don Quixote’s horse, Rocinante.
Steinbeck began this journey both to rediscover America and himself. Pondering a cross-country trip, he wrote to his friend Frank Loesser in 1960: “I am going alone, out toward the West…I just want to look and listen. What I get I’ll need badly—a re-knowledge of my own country, of its speeches, its views, its attitudes, its changes. It’s long overdue…It will be a kind of rebirth” (Tammaro 398-399).
Steinbeck’s account provides readers with a unique picture of the United States in the middle of 20th century. As in The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck reflects on American mobility and builds on an American tradition of travel writing that includes the work of Alexis de Tocqueville and Jack Kerouac. Steinbeck ruminates on the latest addition to American travel, the mobile home. He interviews people living in portable homes about their perception of family roots and geographic permanence. One of his interviewees declares, "Who’s got permanence? Factory closes down, you move on. Good times and things opening up, you move on where it’s better" (Steinbeck 835).
He also expressed a deep sense of place and respect for the working class. Steinbeck communicated this through his description of the diverse places he visited: an autumnal New England, the farmlands of the Midwest, the redwoods of California, deserts of the Mojave, and racist encounters in the South. While visiting his family and old haunts in California, Steinbeck realized one can never truly go home again (Tammaro 398-400).
Tammaro, Thom. “Travels with Charley (1962).” A John Steinbeck Encyclopedia, edited by Brian Railsback and Michael J. Meyer, Greenwood Press, 2006, pp. 397-401.
Steinbeck, John. Travels with Charley. Travels with Charley and Later Novels, 1947-1962. Edited by Robert DeMott, Library of America, New York, 2007. pp. 765-951.