Travels with Charley - Essay Questions

Part 1:

Why did Steinbeck feel the need to discover America when he was an American writer, writing about America (5)? Was it purely curiosity, or did he feel that Americas people and culture were changing? Explain. 

When Steinbeck writes, we do not take a trip; a trip takes us, how does that reflect his feeling about his journey across America (3)? Did he feel that he discovered what he set out to find, or did his trip show him something entirely different than he was expecting? Explain.

Part 2:

How was Steinbecks conversation with the young man who worked on the submarine significant to the theme of an economic shift in American society? Why did the young man keep reinforcing that his job on the submarine was nothing more than a job and that it would afford him all kinds of - future (19)? Do you think that most people today choose their jobs based on financial motivation verses whether they can enjoy their work or take pride in it? Explain.

In Part Two of the text, Steinbeck talks about the wastefulness of American society and how the mountains of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use. In this, if in no other way, we can see the wild and reckless exuberance of our production, and waste seems to be the index (22). What are some other examples in the story where Steinbeck clearly focuses on the wastefulness of American society that masquerades as convenience? After reading the text, do you feel that Steinbeck agrees or disagrees with the American shift toward convenience?

Outside Bangor, Maine, Steinbeck meets a waitress and comments that it is strange how one person can saturate a room with vitality, with excitement. Then there are others, and this dame was one of them, who can drain off energy and joy, can suck pleasure dry (37). Explain how this waitress represents an emerging part of American culture. 

Steinbeck refers to the minority workers hired by Americans to do physical labor as mercenaries (50). By calling them mercenaries, was Steinbeck implying that minorities were taking away jobs from white Americans, or did he believe that Americans were hiring minority workers to do undesirable work no one else wants to do? Explain and use examples from the text.

Multiple times in the story Steinbeck alludes to the decreasing social interaction between American people. Keeping in mind his description of the hotel with self service and the mobile homes, how does he show modern convenience contribute to this decrease in interaction? Did Steinbeck see convenience and social isolation as a change for the better or worse? How do you think Steinbeck would feel about contemporary Americans increasing reliance on technologies like computers for communication? Use examples from the text to explain your answer. 

Part 3:

In part three of the story, Steinbeck says that the calm of the mountains and the rolling of the grasslands had gotten into the inhabitants (121). How does Steinbeck use the landscape as a representation of the people who live on it in the text? Explain. 

In part three of the text, Steinbeck talks about Russians becoming the scapegoat for the problems of many Americans. How does this illustrate Americas growing need to have someone to blame instead of taking responsibility for their own actions? What other examples are there of Americans shifting blame to avoid negative consequences in the story? What does Steinbeck imply will be the result of such attitudes?

After visiting his hometown in California, Steinbeck says that his friends wanted him gone so he could take his proper place in their memories. How does this idea apply to Americans view of United States history? Do Americans choose to believe that America was great so that they have something to cling to and what does that imply for future progress? How does Steinbeck address these questions in the story?

Part 4:

Why does Steinbeck use Texas to talk about the wealthy in America? What factors were so important in making Texas a prime example? 

Based on the events of Part Four, describe Steinbecks attitude toward the racism his witnessed in the South. What negative consequences, according to Steinbeck, does racism create for the country as a whole? What solutions does Steinbeck offer for healing the wounds of racism in the United States?

What is the significance of Steinbeck consistently being lost in the story? What is important about him also being lost when he returns home?