Travels with Charley: In Search of America: In Search of America
To hear the speech of the real America, to smell the grass and the tress, to see the colors and the light--these were John Steinbeck's goals as he set out, 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 the interstates and the country roads, 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.
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Based on details within the passage, what "disease" is incurable for the author, John Steinbeck?
When Steinbeck published this text in 1962, he was a well-known American author. Watch the following video that explains more to you about John Steinbeck and what he means to American culture as a novelist. Based on the information in this video, why does he call himself a "so-called writer"? How does he explain his urge to take this journey? (This annotation contains a video)
This line contains an allusion to two famous literary characters. Don Quixote was the title character in a Spanish classic, known for leaving his comfortable, middle-aged life and embarking on a knight's quest that some found to be ridiculous. His horse, also aging and somewhat ridiculous, was named Rocinante. How does this information help you understand the tone of both Steinbeck and his friends when discussing his planned trip? (This annotation contains an image)
Based on details that he gives in the text, what is Steinbeck's opinion about his fame?
Steinbeck believes that which of the following groups of people has the urge to travel?
Steinbeck's story is true - or, at least, it's based on a true journey, although it's likely to be embellished since he is primarily a fiction writer. The picture below shows Steinbeck with Charley. What can you infer about Steinbeck's relationship with Charley, based on both this image and on his tone when describing his pet and sidekick? (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following is not a simile that Steinbeck uses in the previous paragraph to show the hurricane's might?
The idea of a heroic quest is one of the most common structural elements in literature. By naming his camper after a hero's horse and establishing his unlikely heroism in the storm before the real journey begins, Steinbeck is essentially setting himself up as a hero. Every hero feels a call to adventure, and Steinbeck has established that as well. What is his quest, or the purpose for his trip?
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
What is the author's central claim in the previous paragraph?
Steinbeck served as a war correspondent during World War II and helped capture German and Italian-held islands in the Mediterranean during that time. How might his personal experience affect his feelings about war and submarines, as he describes them in this passage?
Which words in this passage contribute to Steinbeck's tone of desolation?
The author compares his journey to writing a novel: both are a "desolate impossibility." The term "quixotic," based on the aforementioned character Don Quixote, means to be unreasonably idealistic or romantic. Analyze Steinbeck's journey constantly throughout the book: is he too idealistic? Is his quest to discover the true, modern America going to prove impossible?
This is another idea that resonates throughout this work: Steinbeck believes that most people long to leave behind their daily lives in order to travel freely and live independently. Continue to track this idea throughout the book. What does Steinbeck believe is true about people who choose to stay at home and never think about the world beyond themselves?
Which statement best supports the author's claim that Americans are wasteful?
The following picture shows a village in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Compare the text with the photograph. What does Steinbeck find so appealing about this part of the country? (This annotation contains an image)
As the leader of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Nikita Khrushchev was arguably America's most feared figure in 1960. The video below explains the United Nations speech that Steinbeck and his guest are discussing. What do Steinbeck and his guest think about the Cold War and its effect on America during this era? How might the Cold War affect Steinbeck's journey? (This annotation contains a video)
What type of figurative language is most clearly used by Steinbeck in this passage?
Based on previous details in the text and the time period in which this work was written, what "force" is Steinbeck referring to?
With this question, the author introduces us to a paradox, which will be a technique that he uses throughout the work. A paradox occurs when an idea appears to be contradictory, but it actually contains an important truth. How is Steinbeck's statement here an example?
Why does Steinbeck choose to capitalize some of the words in the highlighted paragraph?
The following image shows Steinbeck wearing his beloved naval cap. What do the details he shares about his personal appearance lead you to believe about his personality and beliefs? Why are these important to consider when reading this particular genre? (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following is most likely the correct interpretation of the idiom, "to make the welkin ring"?
Steinbeck's mood changes completely after his encounter with this woman. Yet, at other times, he feels uplifted by being around simple, local people that he will meet on his journey. Often, readers interpret this work as a longing for solitude; however, this is probably a narrow interpretation. Track Steinbeck's interaction with the various people he meets during his journey. How does each person have an impact on him and his overall goal of rediscovering America?
What developing theme is most clearly evident in Steinbeck's conversation with this waitress?
Another idea that recurs through this work is the idea of nature's powerful ability to rejuvenate a tired spirit. The following video shows the phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis in Scotland. How did this event affect Steinbeck upon seeing it in his own country? Continue to look for examples of the power of nature in the book. (This annotation contains a video)
Steinbeck shows the internal conflict he feels about America's changing identity. What seems to be his concern?
Dartmoor, an area of open moors in southern England, has long been associated with mysteries, from prehistoric stone circles to legends of ancient hellhounds. What mood does the image of Dartmoor below evoke? How might this same mood in an American landscape have impressed and affected the author? (This annotation contains an image)
Based on details in the text and your own inferences, what does Steinbeck believe is the most noteworthy characteristic of people who are native to this part of Maine?
Steinbeck is surprised by the geography of this part of the country. Take a look at the interactive map on the site below. Look for places Steinbeck mentions in the text. What about the geography surprises you as well? Do you agree that "we know so little of our own geography"? (This annotation contains a link)
Which literary technique does the author most clearly use in this passage?
Despite this work's classification as nonfiction, Steinbeck uses many literary techniques to help describe a setting or develop a theme. Watch the following video about personification, then identify the personification in this passage and its effect on the scene. (This annotation contains a video)
Steinbeck admits that he is afraid while alone in the dark in this scene. What specific words and phrases contribute to his frightened tone? Use direct quotations from the text in your answer.
This is a recurring theme in Steinbeck's novels. In works such as The Grapes of Wrath, he explores conditions and attitudes facing migrant workers, like these people seen in the image below. What is it about this group of people that Steinbeck finds admirable and worthy of so much interest? (This annotation contains an image)
This statement should remind the reader of Steinbeck's friends warning him to be extremely cautious, even arming himself, during his travels. Yet these people are cautious of Steinbeck instead of the other way around. Consider what you would do in a similar situation: would you be cautious of an outsider to your culture, or would you greet him or her with open arms?
What does Steinbeck feel sharing drinks with his guests has helped him achieve?
What type of figurative language does the author use in this passage?
This is not the first - and it will not be the last - time that Steinbeck will offer his commentary on the change that he sees in America. Does he seem resistant to these changes, or does he embrace them? Continue to track the inner conflict that he feels as he observes the changing landscapes of America throughout this travelogue.
Which words in the passage offer the most direct evidence to the contrary of Steinbeck's insistence that "this is not offered in criticism but only as observation"?
Why does Steinbeck find the empty office so troubling?
The author is making an important point about perspective in this paragraph. Since this travelogue is written from his point of view, how does this affect our understanding of what the author experiences? For more information about point of view and its influence on a literary work, see the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
What quality does the author most appreciate in the preacher in Vermont?
Steinbeck's observation of the differences between state signs is intended to be humorous, but he also makes a point about opposing cultures. Visit the site below, and then click several different links on the page for various states. Where do you see evidence of different cultural beliefs, especially for your own state? Do you agree with Steinbeck's point about how the signs reflect culture? (This annotation contains a link)
Based on Steinbeck's tone in this passage, which of the following is most likely to be true?
As we have seen before, when Steinbeck is lost, help or guidance often comes from an unexpected place. Incidentally, this is another common archetype in other heroic quest stories. How might this be a metaphor for other aspects of life?
Steinbeck's humorous, ironic tone is evident in this terse desciption. Niagara Falls, seen below, was an iconic tourist attraction during this time period. How does the author's tone in his description of this site relate to his developing themes about American culture? (This annotation contains an image)
What does the author find frustrating about government?
How does Steinbeck's interaction with this officer reflect developing ideas within the travelogue?
Here, the conflict that Steinbeck feels about the future is clear. Steinbeck is amazed by these modernized vending machines, yet he is also a little disturbed by them. What connections can you make between this idea and technological advances in our own time? (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following most clearly expresses how the author feels about the increasing "plastic" or synthetic quality of American goods?
According to the details given in this passage, why does Steinbeck avoid driving on the highways?
Despite Steinbeck's objective word choice when he describes the mobile homes, as shown below, his tone is not complimentary. Based on other ideas that he has expressed thus far, what is about these homes that disturb Steinbeck? (This annotation contains an image)
The author refers again to the idea of progress in this discussion of mobile homes. How can you tell that he is conflicted about whether to embrace this example as true progress?
Which of the following ideas is the author developing through this discussion of roots?
The conversation with Joe and his wife is likely to be at least partially fictionalized, since Steinbeck himself admits that he rarely took notes on this journey. The author is making his own claim about life and illustrating it with this anecdote. What is the point he is making?
What is the author's central claim in this section of the text?
Manufacturing scenes such as the one below are disturbing to Steinbeck, and he presents a somewhat one-sided view on cities such as these. If you were going to argue with Steinbeck about the value of places such as these, what might you say? (This annotation contains an image)
What type of figurative language is most clearly included in this passage?
This line contains a tongue-in-cheek allusion to one of Steinbeck's most well-known contemporaries, another author named Ernest Hemingway. Can you identify the reference? See the video below to help you understand it. What might this allusion lead you to infer about Steinbeck himself? (This annotation contains a video)
What is the author saying that he still does?
Who is Lonesome Harry?
Quiz, Parts One and Two
How does the Lonesome Harry story relate to Steinbeck's developing theme of a lack of authenticity leading to depression and loneliness? Use specific details from the text to support your answer.
Why does the author most likely choose to structure this work in such a way that he leaves out details of meeting with his wife?
Steinbeck has come to depend on Charley as his companionable voice of reason, which brings to mind the Don Quixote story from which he draws inspiration. Like Steinbeck, Don Quixote travels with a sidekick. Watch the following video from "Man of La Mancha," a 1972 musical version of Don Quixote. What do you learn from the lyrics and the interaction between Quixote and Sancho Panza? How does their interaction mirror that of Steinbeck and Charley? (This annotation contains a video)
Which phrase from this paragraph contains an example of personification?
Since this is the second time Steinbeck has mentioned these turkeys, we can infer that they serve a larger purpose in the work. How does he feel like human beings, in creating escape routes from atomic war, act like those turkeys in the valley? Use precise language from the text to fully explain this metaphor.
What theme is Steinbeck developing by describing this restaurant, the waitress, and the food?
Sinclair Lewis, whose home in Sauk Centre is shown below, was a novelist who was known for his criticism of materialism in modern America. Lewis, like Steinbeck, was awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature; in his acceptance speech, he says that American writers "are still afraid of any literature which is not a glorification of everything American." How does this idea relate to Steinbeck's own writing within this book? (This annotation contains an image)
Steinbeck's view of Fargo brings the story of Don Quixote to the forefront again. When reality tries to force Don Quixote to accept that his dreams are mythological, he often chooses to ignore reality. How does Steinbeck do the same here, and how does this choice give a sense of optimism to what could be a dreary section of the book?
Explain Steinbeck's idea about the relationship between solitude and the passage of time in your own words.
Steinbeck has raised many questions about America over the course of the book, yet he feels that he hasn't made any real conclusions. What conflicting ideas has he been considering thus far in his journey?
Which developing theme is Steinbeck exploring through this breakfast metaphor?
The image below shows three U.S. presidents: Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Barack Obama. Based on historical events and popular opinion at the time each served as president, what did these three men have in common? How is that idea shown through this dialogue with the shopkeeper? (This annotation contains an image)
What type of figurative language does the author most clearly use in this passage?
Based on this conversation, what can you most reasonably infer to be the man's profession?
Traveling actors have been around for centuries, as shown in the image below. An actor would travel to small towns and sell tickets to one-man shows. Traditionally, many of them have been viewed with distrust by the public and have gained reputations as con men. Keep this in mind throughout Steinbeck's conversation with the actor. Why does he include this conversation in the book? (This annotation contains an image)
Steinbeck continues to develop the idea that people fear the unfamiliar. What current connections can you make to this idea?
With this statement about Charley, which of the following does the author make clear about his own perspective on life?
The badlands, seen below, are a geographical feature that run through several western states. Millions of years of erosion have carved these extensive formations that Steinbeck observes. Why would an individual feel small or unimportant in a landscape such as this? Where else in this work have you seen Steinbeck's awe of the power of nature? (This annotation contains an image)
How does the dramatic landscape affect both Steinbeck and this old woman?
The author primarily uses his description of Montana as an example to help prove what larger argument?
This painting that Steinbeck refers to is a famous recreation of the Battle of Little Big Horn. Steinbeck has often avoided visiting tourist destinations during his journey, so why does he decide to visit this well-known place? What does this visit show about Steinbeck's values?
Why does Steinbeck leave Yellowstone so quickly?
Charley's reaction to the bears is an example of hyperbole. It's so extremely exaggerated that the reader has to wonder what the purpose is. If Charley's desire to attack the bears stems from his own fear and uncertainty about them, how does this idea relate to others in the book? Where have we seen fear cause people to take irrational action?
What observation is Steinbeck making about people's criticism of the modern era?
Here's another person who wants to leave his home and travel. The German term "wanderlust" is often used to describe this urge. Steinbeck has explored this powerful feeling throughout his journey. What does he believe to be true about most Americans?
Based on its context, what is most likely to be the correct meaning of the idiom, "burrs under his blanket"?
Here again is the idea that people would be more comfortable if they would quit hiding behind screens and their own insecurities. Where else in this work have we seen ideas about authenticity vs. falseness?
Why doesn't Steinbeck remember anything about the trip to Spokane?
This idea relates back to the waitress in Maine and to Lonesome Harry in Chicago. Why? What does Steinbeck believe to be true about unhappy people and their effect on others?
What details about Seattle lead Steinbeck to this conclusion? Where else in the novel have you seen examples that could support this argument?
Based on details given in the text and your own inferences, which of the following would most accurately describe Steinbeck's likely feelings about modern technology?
What literary technique is most clearly used by the author in this passage?
Once again, when the author feels that he might be overcome with despair - or, in this case, bad luck - he depends on the kindness of strangers to change his circumstances. All across America, Steinbeck has run into characters like this man. Where else have we seen examples of unlikely "saintliness" in the book?
Conservation efforts to save the redwoods have been around for generations, as seen in the photo below from the early 1900's. What about these trees inspires so much awe and reverence in many Americans, especially those who are from the area (like Steinbeck)? (This annotation contains an image)
In a metaphor that is carefully crafted by the author, Charley is unable to understand that this enormous thing is a tree, similar to the ones he sees every day. His horizons are limited by his experience. How does Steinbeck explore this same idea elsewhere in the book? (This annotation contains an image)
Read this passage carefully. What mood is created through the author's word choice? Use details from the text to support your answer.
Steinbeck often uses rhetorical questions as a tool to advance an argument that he is making. Rhetorical questions, which are not intended to have a specific answer, make the reader think. What is Steinbeck's purpose in using these questions here? What point does he want the reader to understand?
What type of figurative language does the author use by referring to San Francisco as a woman?
It is rare to see Steinbeck impressed by the sight of a city. Watch the video below as the speaker reads a poem about San Francisco written by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Compare and contrast images in this poem with the images created by Steinbeck's words. (This annotation contains a video)
In order to illustrate the conflicting elements of his hometown, Steinbeck uses a series of oxymora, or contradictory terms. For example, he says that Monterey is a place of "sentimental violence" and "wise innocence." How can these things co-exist in one place? How do these contradictions reflect Steinbeck's own conflict about being home?
Although Steinbeck is exploring a sensitive idea about a person feeling conflicted about where he truly belongs, his tone is humorous. What details in this scene establish the humor? Use direct quotations from the text.
Why does Steinbeck say that he and his friends are ghosts, rather than the people they knew who have actually died?
The video below explains more clearly the conflict that Steinbeck is feeling. The earthy, blue collar town of his youth has become a tourist mecca. How does Steinbeck's conflict about his hometown relate to themes that he is developing in the book? (This annotation contains a video)
Explain this important paragraph in your own words. What conclusions has Steinbeck drawn from his journey?
What paradox does Steinbeck notice when crossing the Mojave Desert?
What does Steinbeck do after he sees the two coyotes?
The author is not simply describing his personal beliefs about how life is formed and the passage of time. He is describing how organisms learn to change over time in order to survive, and it is likely that he intends for this observation to serve as a metaphor. What earlier details from the journey could support the idea that Steinbeck is talking about America's need to evolve, however painful or even undesirable it may be?
Which piece of evidence does not support the author's claim that state troopers are admirable men?
Earlier in the novel, Steinbeck noticed the differences in state signs in an almost gleeful way. How has his tone changed as he talks about the differences between states now? What bothers him about this separatism?
Steinbeck is feeling overwhelmed and a little lost as he sits in New Mexico at night. His goal was to rediscover an America with which he felt he had lost touch. How would you evaluate his success at this step of the journey? Why do you think he is feeling overwhelmed?
A common aspect of the heroic quest archetype is the hero's inevitable sense of isolation. The quest begins to seem hopeless and the undertaking foolish. The travelogue could end here and Steinbeck could head home. Predict what you think what will happen instead in Part Four.
Which of the following best describes how the author chooses to use the character of Charley in this final scene of Part Three?
Quiz, Part Three
Steinbeck definitely has a biased view of Texas, which he describes on this page. How does the image below relate to Steinbeck's impression of Texas and Texans? (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following does the author believe is true regarding stereotypes of Texas?
The aspects that Steinbeck admires about Texas are many of the same aspects he wants to find in American culture as a whole. Read through his description of Texas again. What specific details does the author admire, and how has he found the same details lacking in other parts of the country?
Steinbeck's journey is winding down in this final section of his travelogue, and the reader is approaching his final conclusions. Throughout the book, we have discussed the author's dismay at the increasing "plastic" quality to American culture and the conflict he feels over this change. How does this paragraph relate to that idea and begin to offer a reasonable resolution to the conflict?
The Texas "orgy" that Steinbeck attends is a multi-day extravaganza. Steinbeck uses the term "orgy" as a metaphor, comparing the decadence of the Thanksgiving festivities with the legendary self-indulgence of the Roman empire. What details in this scene contribute to Steinbeck's feeling that it's all a little too over the top to be completely authentic?
What stereotype about "fabulous Texas millionaires" can you infer must exist during this time period?
What argument against the public's general perception of Texas is Steinbeck making?
What paradox is making Steinbeck feel conflicted?
In 1960, the African-American Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum, sparking riots and turmoil throughout the southern United States. One story that garnered national attention before Steinbeck's journey was the murder of Emmitt Till. Watch the video below to have a greater understanding of what troubles Steinbeck about taking this part of his journey. (This annotation contains a link)
Which of the following is most clearly the argument that Steinbeck is making about racism?
"Equal but separate" is a reference to the 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown vs. Board of Education, which ruled that the idea of "separate but equal" was unconstitutional. As a result, schools and other facilities gradually desegregated. However, this process did not happen overnight, and many people protested the decision. (This annotation contains an image)
What claim is Steinbeck making about the offensive language of people in this region of the world at this particular time?
What does the incident with the cab driver most clearly illustrate?
American painter Norman Rockwell painted a picture of this very scene, entitled "The Problem We All Face." How does this image relate to the text? How do the details of both impact you as a reader? (This annotation contains an image)
Watch the video below for an interview with Ruby Bridges, the real-life little girl who integrated this elementary school in New Orleans all alone. Compare and contrast her perspective of the scene with Steinbeck's description and Rockwell's painting. (This annotation contains a video)
What disturbs Steinbeck most about the Cheerleaders?
This French expression means "here lies" and accompanies names on tombstones, as seen below. This stranger is saying that all of his ancestors are either from New Orleans or farther up the river in St. Louis. (This annotation contains an image)
Read this conversation between Steinbeck and the New Orleans stranger again. What is the stranger's argument about race relations, and how does he support it? Use textual details to support your answer.
As mentioned before, some criticize this work for being more like a work of fiction than a true nonfiction travelogue. Throughout the entire work, Steinbeck has explored America alone. Yet as the book draws to a conclusion, Steinbeck will describe three people in a row to whom he gives a ride. How do the details in this section support that criticism? Does it matter to you that some scenes are likely to have been embellished and even fabricated by the author?
What detail about this scene can you infer is most disturbing to Steinbeck?
Once again, the author uses the character of Charley to explain his own thoughts. Is it Charley who thinks people are "nuts," or is it Steinbeck himself? Why does the author choose to present ideas through the character of Charley rather than state them directly for the reader?
In 1962, the same year this work was published, Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Watch the video of his acceptance speech below. Pay particular attention to what he says about the role of the writer. Compare his speech with conclusions that you can reach from this work as a whole, and this section about racism and The Civil Rights Movement in particular. (This annotation contains a video)
What has changed for the author at this stage in the journey?
John Steinbeck (our Don Quixote) and his loyal sidekick (Sancho Panza) are approaching the end of their heroic quest to find America. Steinbeck feels that both he, the dreamer, and Charley, the pragmatist, have accomplished their goal. What final conclusions has he reached about the spirit of America in 1960 and beyond? What uncertainties does he still have?
Steinbeck has spent much of the journey being lost in one way or another. Critics view this detail in different ways. While it's true that America seems to have become unrecognizable to the author, it's also true that when he feels most lost, he always seems to be found again by a kind stranger. In this case, it's "an old-fashioned cop with a fine red face" who helps him remember where he is. Is America lost to the author, or has he found it?
Quiz, Part Four