The Journey is an existential book that chronicles Smith's exploration of herself and what it means to be human. Throughout the book, Smith explores themes ranging from death to the gaps between dream and reality to the role of art in ones life. Amidst this search for answers to life's questions, what becomes apparent, as Rose Gladney and Lisa Hodgens note, is that "Smith's personal philosophical search for meaning is never separate from her work for social justice."
In the prologue and the first two chapters, Smith examines the mind, the beliefs that individuals carry within their minds, and the way that one remembers the past. She also went in search of hope, in search of what drives us as humans to be who we are. She writes, "I went on this journey to find an image of the human being that I could feel proud of. I wanted to reassure myself of mortal strength, of man's power not only to survive on this earth but to continue growing in stature."
She expounds upon her impetus for composing The Journey in a letter Lewis Gannett in December 1953, "I had been working on my novel, the one I had been on for many years when suddenly, two years ago, I laid it aside and decided I had to find out what life is about; what it is about for me, anyway. I knew what I did not believe; I thought I even knew what was 'wrong with things' but I did not know what I believed nor did I know what is 'right with things.' So I journeyed forth to find out. This book is what I found."
Ultimately, The Journey highlights the multiple roles that Smith embodies throughout her work, that of artist and activist. These roles work in tandem, and Smith merges the two within The Journey, a text that arose partly from her extensive research on individuals with disabilities. While The Journey is Smith's personal exploration, it is also universal because her personal search is a collective search for our humanity.