40 pages 1 hour read

John Steinbeck

Travels With Charley

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 1962

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Symbols & Motifs


The decline of roots among the American population is a recurring motif in Travels With Charley, in relationship to both Steinbeck himself and the people he encounters. Steinbeck feels rootless after visiting his hometown. He has lived all over the world, and although he was raised in California and has lived in New York for a long time, he doesn’t consider any particular place home. He sees this trend across the country: People are becoming more mobile, intentionally abandoning their roots to seek better lives in more exciting places. Mobile homes exemplify this trend; even houses no longer must stay in one fixed location. Rootlessness also refers to the rapidly changing landscape of the US as a whole; every town he visits is expanding rapidly and becoming more like everywhere else. Thus, even the people who do stay where they were born are starting to lose their roots as their familiar homelands are reshaped around them.

Natural Landscapes

The book uses landscapes as symbols in multiple ways. Often, the symbolism connects not only to the land itself but also to Steinbeck’s state of mind when he encounters it, to the time of year, and to the weather. The desert, for example, symbolizes the inability of humans to conquer every inch of the earth.