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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Stranger

It's stranger than fiction.

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Teaching The Stranger doesn't need to turn into an existential crisis.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity for students to put Meursault on trial.
  • resources on the life of Camus and information on Algerian independence.
  • essay questions asking students to analyze death, god, and justice. You know, small things.

And much more.

We're no stranger to Camus, and we will help you introduce him to your students.

What's Inside Shmoop's Literature Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring literature to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: As it turns out, there is a fair amount of pop/rock songs that reference The Stranger, sometimes in very subtle ways, and sometimes in very obvious ways (such as a song called "Albert Camus.") Your kids are going to look at these songs to analyze the themes of The Stranger resonate across decades and in other artistic genres—plus you get to listen to music in class; everyone wins.

Be sure to preview the lyrics and videos; some of the words are rated PG-13 or higher, and you might need to censor a little or get administrator/parent approval ahead of time. You don't want any angry parents on your hands.

This activity should take 1-2 class periods.

Materials:

  • Text of The Stranger
  • Access to a SmartBoard or other presentation technology
  • Queen's "Bohemian Rhaposdy" (video with lyrics)
  • The Cure's "Killing an Arab" (song, lyrics)
  • Tuxedomoon's "The Stranger" (song, lyrics)
  • The Lawrence Arms's "Asa Phelps is Dead" (song, lyrics)
  • Titus Andronicus's "Albert Camus" (song, lyrics)

Step 1: Let's start with a fan favorite: Play Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" for your students and pass out copies of the lyrics so they can follow along. Ask them to listen closely and mark any lyrics that seem related to The Stranger.

When the song ends, ask students to share any lyrics that jumped out at them as being possibly related to the novel. They'll probably mention the following lines (among others):

  • Any way the wind blows doesn't really matter to me
  • Mama, just killed a man/put a gun against his head/pull my trigger, now he's dead
  • I don't want to die/I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all
  • Nothing really matters/anyone can see/nothing really matters to me

Ask students to explain how these lyrics remind them of the main character in The Stranger. How does the refrain, "nothing really matters" seem connected to Meursault and/or Camus?

Step 2: Divide the students into five groups and tell them that they're going to look at different songs (some quasi-famous, others obscure) that have direct references to The Stranger and the works of Albert Camus. Each group will listen to a different song, read along with the lyrics, compare the song to the original piece of literature, and present their findings to the class.

Note: This is the part of the lesson that gets a little tricky, depending on how much access to technology you have. It may be difficult for you to have five different groups to listen to five different songs at the same time, but there are ways around that problem. If, for example, you only have two computers that can play music at once, you can tell your other three groups to read and analyze the lyrics before they listen to their songs, as if they were reading a poem. Then they can rotate with the groups who used the computers first. You can also assign your students different parts of The Stranger to reread before they listen to their songs. The group that listens to "Killing an Arab" might want to read that part of the text before they get their groove on to The Cure.

Step 3: Crank up the volume; it's time to jam. And by jam we mean engage in a musical literary analysis, and yes, this is our idea of a good time. Give your students time to listen to the song, read the lyrics, and find appropriate quotes from The Stranger to compare and contrast. They should find 2-3 quotes from both the song and from the text to present to the rest of the class. Be sure to print up the song lyrics ahead of time (and also to censor the lyrics when appropriate; "Albert Camus," in particular, has several naughty words that your students don't need to see).

If students have trouble with this part of the assignment, model an example from "Bohemian Rhapsody," a song that is not explicitly based on The Stranger but that has some interesting connections all the same. You might demonstrate how you would compare the lyric "I don't wanna die/I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all" to a passage from the end of the text where Meursault is hoping to find some way out of his execution.

Step 4: Ready for a little karaoke? Kidding—just have your students present their findings to the class the old-fashioned way (unless your students are into karaoke; then by all means, proceed). Each group should summarize the song they listened to, share two or three quotes from the song, share the passage from The Stranger that the song lyric relates to, and explain the connection.

Step 5: Once all groups have sung—um, shared their findings, have an encore discussion to close down this concert:

  • What do these songs have in common?
  • What theme from The Stranger appears in all of these songs?
  • Why do you think The Stranger seems to appeal to rock musicians in particular?
  • Do any of the songs reinterpret themes from the novel or show how they connect to modern life?

Instructions for Your Students

"Mama/just killed a man/put a gun against his head/pulled my trigger, now he's dead…"

You don't have to be a child of the 70s to recognize the lyrics to this song: Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Chances are, your mom or dad has played this song while cleaning the house, or maybe you caught Glee's rendition from 2010. It's endlessly catchy and quotable, even that middle part of the song with the lyrics nobody understands.

Now look at the song again. Does that quoted lyric remind you of anything? Doesn't it seem eerily familiar to a certain book you've all just read?

Today, you're going to look at "Bohemian Rhapsody" and other songs like it—most of which have direct references to The Stranger. You'll get a lesson in alternative rock in the middle of your English lesson. What could be better?

Step 1: First, we'll listen to all of "Bohemian Rhapsody," that 1970s and karaoke classic. Follow along on your copy of the lyrics, but try to resist the urge to burst into song yourself; instead, listen closely and mark any lyrics that seem related to The Stranger.

Which lyrics remind you of the main character in The Stranger? How does the refrain, "nothing really matters" seem connected to Meursault and/or Camus?

Step 2: In groups, you'll be assigned a rock song to listen to and analyze. Fun fact: all of these songs have direct references to The Stranger or the works of Albert Camus. Here are the different songs you'll listen to:

  • "Killing an Arab" by The Cure. This song refers, obviously, to the climax of Part 1 in the book, where Meursault kills the Arab man with a gun. (See Part 1, Chapter 6.)
  • "The Stranger" by Tuxeedomoon. This song provides a bit of an invented backstory of Meursault's childhood and ends with his non-reaction to his mother's funeral. (See Part 1, Chapter 1.)
  • "Asa Phelps is Dead" by the Lawrence Arms. This song refers to themes from the novel and has a passage from the end of The Stranger read over the last part of the recording. (See Part 2, Chapter 5.)
  • "Albert Camus" by Titus Andronicus. This song isn't directly related to The Stranger but you'll notice some similar themes found in the text and in the work of Camus himself. (See Shmoop's summary.) Fun fact: The band name is also a literary reference to the Shakespeare play of the same name, and their album The Airing of Grievances is a pop culture reference to the show Seinfeld. These guys never stop.

Step 3: Crank up the volume; it's time to jam. And by jam we mean engage in a musical literary analysis, and yes, this is our idea of a good time. Listen to your assigned song, read the lyrics, and find quotes from The Stranger that connect with the lyrics. You're going to present your song to your classmates, and you want to be able to explain how your song closely connects to specific passages from The Stranger.

For some groups, this task might be easier than others. The "Killing an Arab" group knows exactly what section of the book the song is referring to, but the "Albert Camus" group might have a harder time. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers in song interpretation, as long as you can support your thinking with text evidence. For example, in "Bohemian Rhapsody," a song that is not explicitly based on The Stranger but that has some interesting connections all the same, you could compare the lyric "I don't wanna die/I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all" to a passage from the end of the text where Meursault is hoping to find some way out of his execution.

Step 4: Ready for a little karaoke? Kidding—just present your findings to the class the old-fashioned way (unless you're dying to sing for us; then by all means, proceed). Each group should summarize the song you listened to, share two or three quotes from the song, share the passage from The Stranger that the song lyric relates to, and explain the connection.

Step 5: Now that you've all sung—um, shared your findings, let's have an encore discussion to close down this concert:

  • What do these songs have in common?
  • What theme from The Stranger appears in all of these songs?
  • Why do you think The Stranger seems to appeal to rock musicians in particular?
  • Do any of the songs reinterpret themes from the novel or show how they connect to modern life?

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WANT MORE HELP TEACHING THE STRANGER?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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