40 pages 1 hour read

John Steinbeck

Travels With Charley

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 1962

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Authorial Context: Steinbeck’s Declining Health

Travels With Charley came at the end of Steinbeck’s career; it was his second-to-last book published before his death in 1968. Therefore, the context for Travels With Charley differs from that of his earlier works. Steinbeck prided himself on being a strong, masculine individual, able to overcome any obstacle he faced in his “long and unprotected life” (187). Unlike many of his literary contemporaries, who grew up with privileged backgrounds, he didn’t find financial success until well into adulthood and worked in many physically rigorous, working-class jobs before making a living as a writer. His life experience is evident in works like The Grapes of Wrath, in which the Joad family perseveres despite endless hardships. The enormous underlying strength guiding most working-class American people permeates Steinbeck’s earlier works, and many characters reflect his vision of his young self. In Travels With Charley, however, his assessment of the average American takes a different turn. He depicts many characters as weak and hopeless, even though they live in conditions much better than most of Steinbeck’s fictional characters. This reflects Steinbeck’s view of his own situation, particularly his declining health, which in reality was more dire than the book reveals.