Albert Camus,
author of The Stranger


Soren Kierkegaard,
Danish philosopher


Friedrich Nietzsche,
German thinker and writer

Other Works
w/ Existential Themes:










Lesson Plan
Existentialism: Fight Club & The Stranger
Course: World Literature & Composition (10th Grade)
Unit: Themes
Length: 1-2 weeks
Overview: This is the final unit in a semester-long World Literature & Composition course.  It will last approximately two weeks. Previous units included Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Drama, and Utopian Literature. Reading material for the course has included Greek mythology, Eastern and Western philosophy, Beowulf, Sophocles’ Antigone, and Anthem by Ayn Rand.  The most recent unit introduced the concept of genre as a group of literature with similar characteristics.   The students read Anthem as an example of Utopian literature and compared it to works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry with similar themes (e.g., Farenheit 451, 1984, and Brave New World).  Students also learned how historical, philosophical, and literary contexts affect their meaning.  This unit reinforces students’ understanding of context by exposing them to the genre of Existential Literature.  Existentialism is a philosophical movement that posits that individuals create the meaning and essence of their lives, as opposed to deities or authorities creating it for them.  To introduce the text, students will watch portions Fight Club, a popular movie with existential themes.  They will then read excerpts of works by Kierkegaard, Kafka, Nietzche, and other existential thinkers to learn the major ideas of the philosophy.  The students will then read The Stranger by Albert Camus and discuss how the author communicates existential ideas explicitly as well as implicitly through a variety of literary devices.  Lastly, the students will write an analytical essay that compares The Stranger to two other works of literature.
Objectives: Students will (a) read works of Existential literature, (b) comprehend the literal meaning these texts, (c) establish historical, philosophical, and literary contexts, (d) understand point of view and tone, (e) describe setting and mood, (f) discuss characters, characterization, and character development, (g) identify and analyze themes, motifs, and symbols, (h) appreciate author’s style as device through which to communicate ideas, and (i) compare and contrast the text to similar works.   
- Fight Club
- Questions on Fight Club
- "Existentialism" Wikipedia Article
- Existentialist Quotes
- Connect the Plot Dots
- Copies of The Stranger by Albert Camus
- Questions on The Stranger
Pop Quiz on Existentialism & The Stranger
Instructions & Rubric for Small Group Project on The Stranger
- Writing Assignment

- List of Existential Thinkers
Activate prior knowledge. In order for students to understand this lesson, they must have in mind the following: interest in movies,  real-life experiences that relate to the movie, and experience using movies as transitions into reading lessons.  Later, students will also recall previous lessons on good reading strategies, basic elements of fiction, and genre as a category of literature with similar traits.  To activate this prior knowledge, write on the board the key terms students should already know, and review any about which there may still be confusion. Some key terms may be: fiction, genre, reading strategies, movies, protagonist, conflict, etc. 
Introduce the movie Fight Club.*  Tell the students that today they are watching Fight Club as an introduction to the last unit of the semester.  Like the previous unit, this unit focuses on another genre/theme of literature. This genre features feelings of freedom, absurdity, anxiety, indifference, boredom, dissatisfaction, ennui, alienation, skepticism, and meaninglessness.  For example, the main character of Fight Club becomes so board with his life that he starts an illegal club where men meet just to beat the crap out of each other.  Once he believes life is ultimately meaningless, it gives him the liberty to whatever he wants.  
Ask the students, “What is the meaning of life?”  Ask what they believe is the meaning of life.  Why are we here?  What is our purpose?  Do you believe we were created by God?  Do you believe we evolved from primates?  Do you believe we are reincarnations of people from the past?   Do you believe in fate or destiny?  How do your beliefs affect your thoughts and actions?  What if you believed life had no meaning, that we are here as a consequence of circumstances beyond our control?  How would this belief affect you?  What kind of person believes this? Say to the students, “As you watch Fight Club, I want you to think about how the main character would answer these questions.  After the film, we will discuss his thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and actions.”
Play the movie.  Show the students the film.  Distribute a worksheet with questions for students to answer while watching the movie to make sure they pay attention.
Discuss pertinent parts.  After the film, first review the worksheet and major plot details.  It is important that you assess students’ literal comprehension of the film   before moving on to a discussion of more advanced ideas.  Then ask questions that elicit existential concepts. Don’t explicitly teach existentialism quite yet, just introduce the main ideas.
Explain Existentialism. Recall yesterday’s lesson and tell the students that Fight Club is an example of existential literature, insomuch as it was based on a book.  Existentialism is the philosophy that individuals create their own meaning in their lives, as opposed to having a deity or higher power creating it for them.  Existentialists believe that life has no meaning because we are all here for no reason other than the fact that our parents gave birth to us. Accepting that life is meaningless means that there is no real reason to live, and this causes a major crisis for the existentialist. What is the point of living if we all die anyway? 
Distribute list of quotes that exemplify major existential ideas. Compile a list of quotations from famous existential thinkers.
Identify the fundamental elements of existential literature.  Existential literature is any fiction, nonfiction, poetry or drama influenced by the philosophy of existentialism.   These works have a similar protagonist, point of view, and plot. Give examples of other existentialist literature for those students who may be interested.
Compare Fight Club to The Stranger.  Tell the students that the protagonist's worldview in Fight Club is the same as the protagonist's worldview in The Stranger. Discuss what each character is like--their attitude towards life, their religious beliefs, their personal interests, their actions, and so forth. For example, both characters
Connect the students to the text. Provide a brief overview of The Stranger.  Basically, it begins with the main character going to his mother’s funeral.  Tell the students to imagine that their own mothers have just died.  Instruct the students to make a T-Chart that compares their reaction to the death of their mother to how they imagine an existentialist would respond, given what they know about existentialists. 
Play Connect the Plot Dots. This is a pre-reading activity in which students predict the logical series of events in the rising action of The Stranger, so that they are better prepared to comprehend the text when they start reading it.
Read The Stranger. The book is relatively short and could be read in two or three days. Pause to discuss as needed. Insofar as different groups of students will be interested in different parts of the novel, adjust discussions to fit students' needs.
Assign a small group project. Each group will be given a symbol, motif, or theme to find as many examples as possible of in the text. This should take less than one period. Have students share their finding with the class.
Assign an outside reading and writing assignment. Instruct each student to read one other work of existential literature and to write a five-paragraph analytical essay in which they compare and contrast it to The Stranger.
Administer a Quiz on Existentialism and The Stranger.

*The novel FIght Club by Chuck Palahniuk, upon which the movie was based, could be read instead of showing the film. It's pretty good, but permission from parents would be needed due to some graphic details.
Small Group Project
Writing Assignment: Comparing/Contrasting two Existential Work
Quiz on Existentialism & The Sranger
T.A.P.P. Outcome(s):
T.A.P.P. Outcome #6: Teacher will demonstrate the ability to group and instruct
students who vary in rate, ability, compatibility, and style of learning.
One of the steps in this lesson is a small group project. Students are divided into five groups, and each group has to present a project to the class that explains either the setting, characters, motifs, symbols, and themes in the novel. Insofar as the assignments for each group vary in level of difficulty, and I put students into gropus based on skill level, this lesson demonstrates my ablity to instruct students who vary in rate, ability, combatitbility, and stye of learning. For example, the students who were less skilled in comprehension but expceptionally skilled and interested in art were assigned the task of drawing a map and gathering images of the time and place the book occurs. Meanwhile, the more advanced students were responsible for analyzing more complicated elements such as motifs, symbols, and themes.