Connecting with History

Steinbeck's writing was deeply connected to the time and place in which it was set. The characters and events portrayed in his fiction were meant to be realistic. Understanding the time period in which Steinbeck was writing in and about creates a deeper connection to the characters and the issues Steinbeck illuminated in his writing.

These lessons focus on specific historical themes and topics found in Travels with Charley. Each lesson is linked to historical context resources to help teachers and students connect the novel to its place in time.

Oral History

In this activity, students will learn a bit of someone else's life story through interviewing a family member or a close friend of the family. Teachers can choose to focus students on a similar topic (e.g. immigration, the Cold War, etc.), or to allow students to decide what kind of history they will be collecting.

The Cold War

Travels with Charley is about a journey across the United States, but more particularly it is about a journey across the United States in 1960. In Part Two of the book Steinbeck makes references to the Cold War, giving the reader a look into Steinbeck’s impression of how the United States was thinking about and affected by the Cold War. This lesson is designed to provide historical background to these references.

Cold War Videos

Travels with Charley is about a journey across the United States, but more particularly it is about a journey across the United States in 1960. In Part Two of the book Steinbeck makes references to the Cold War, giving the reader a look into Steinbeck’s impression of how the United States was thinking about and affected by the Cold War. This lesson allows for students to creatively interpret the Cold War and Cold War propaganda by allowing them to script and perform their own “educational video” (or skit).

History vs. Memory

Even prior to the modern digital age, history often becomes intermingled with memory. Steinbeck addresses this issue bluntly when he says “I cannot commend this account as an America you will find” (60). He knows, and admits, that his experiences, his eyes, may see a different American than that of his readers. This activity challenges students to think critically about history and events, even when those “facts” are being presented by someone of authority, such as Steinbeck.