40 pages 1 hour read

John Steinbeck

Travels With Charley

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 1962

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Part 1, Chapters 1-3Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapters 1-3 Summary

In the opening pages of Travels With Charley, Steinbeck describes his lifelong desire to wander. When he was young, he assumed that maturity would cure him, but writing the book as a middle-aged man, he realizes that he’ll always be a “bum” and always long for the unpredictability and adventure of long trips to new places. He warns against trying too hard to control the trajectory of a journey. In his mind, meticulous planning is fruitless. Once travelers accept that they don’t have full control over what will happen on their trip, they can go with the flow and accept whatever the trip has to offer.

In this way, Steinbeck prefaces the trip that frames Travels With Charley. He realizes that he’s getting old, and though he has traveled the world, he knows little about his native US beyond the coastal areas where he has lived. As someone famed for writing about the many aspects of American life, he’s embarrassed that he knows so little about the reality of his chosen subject. Worse, he recently received a serious, age-related medical diagnosis. He realizes that he has a choice: He can continue to live life to the fullest or settle into becoming a sedentary old man.