In Travels With Charley, John Steinbeck travels with his poodle in his camper across America to discover his country and validate his status as an American author. On his circular journey, Steinbeck reflects upon each location as having its own personality and unique story. Consequently, the book reads like a casual travelogue documenting Steinbeck's experiences throughout the nation, only connected by recurring themes of roots, culture, loneliness, and the American tradition. It would seem that his claims are too outlandish and disconnected if not for his travel companion Charley, who remains a constant throughout the book. Steinbeck uses Charley as an asset to balance his themes with someone the reader can relate to. By being an intelligent travel companion, helping connect with strangers, and acting as an ambassador to the readers, Charley combines the events of Steinbeck's journey into a comprehensive and valid definition of the American identity.
Charley acts as a friend along the journey by providing Steinbeck with worthwhile advice. One morning when Steinbeck sleeps past dawn "Charley looked into [his] face and said 'ftt,'" (54) a reminder to stay with his schedule. Charley's presence as a dog is grounding, but not disruptive to the message of the novel. Steinbeck chooses to omit his stop in Chicago with his wife because it "would contribute only a disunity" (95) in the quiet companionship the he and Charley share. Chicago is the only place in the book where Charley and Steinbeck are separated for a lengthy period of time and thus has no place in the journey. In some cases, Charley even proves to be more intelligent than the people along the road, especially in the South. Right after his incident with the racist man he picks up, Steinbeck comments that Charley does not belong to a species "not clever enough to live in peace with itself" (203).