The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum

Contributed by Kay Hogan, Cleveland Heights High School, Cleveland Heights, Ohio


Using an artistically integrated approach in teaching literary themes helps students to explore more fully the universality of those themes. Rock music is a form of cultural expression, which, because of its mass appeal, can become a useful addition in the cultural exploration of social and individual issues. What the individual’s role in society is or should be continues to be a question with each new generation, and seeing in a variety of art forms how others have attempted to answer it can prompt a broader and more meaningful discussion.


The student will be able to: 

  1. read and analyze selections by Albert Camus and Jorge Luis Borges relating to individual and societal responsibility;
  2. listen to and analyze songs pertaining to the same;
  3. discuss and support ideas in varied written and oral formats.


suggested for higher level or Advanced Placement secondary English students, especially in a World Literature course.

Time Frame

This unit will take one and one-half to two weeks.


Copies of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, copies of excerpts of Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, background information on Existentialism, copies of Jorge Luis Borges’ “Rosendo’s Tale,” copies of lyrics of selected songs, CD’s/tapes of selected songs, sound system.


An understanding of the major ideas of Existentialism and the historical background and figures that contributed to those ideas is extremely useful. Students might contribute background of the recording artists and their time periods to stress even more the universality of the theme.



  1. Students will have read The Stranger and written a Readers Response Journal before discussion begins.
  2. Provide background material on most accepted ideas of Existential thought and background of key figures such as Sartre and Camus. Have students read them and discuss excerpts from The Myth of Sisyphus to understand how Camus deviated from the thinking of Sartre.
  3. In discussion, trace events in main character’s life that depict his growing knowledge of himself as an individual and his relationship not only to his society but to the universe as a whole.
  4. Have students listen to “Killing An Arab” by The Cure and pass out lyrics. Share the controversial background of the recording. How do the lyrics and music fit the story? How did the group’s experience mirror the problems artistic people have in communicating with the general public?
  5. Using the lyrics and music to as many songs as time permits, discuss the ideas of the individual finding his/her own meaning in life versus conforming to the ideas of society. What are the advantages and disadvantages of conforming to society?
  6. Read and discuss how Borges’ story fits in to ideas of conforming to one’s society and the price one must pay for nonconformity.
  7. Finally, look at the other side. Using The Stranger, past and contemporary events and examples from popular media suggested by students and teacher, should there be a definition of social responsibility? What price may society have to pay for nonconformity?
  8. Students will write a timed essay based on a choice between two topics from past AP English Literature and Composition tests (1982 and 1976): 

    A. In great literature, no scene of violence exists for its own sake. Explain how the violence in The Stranger contributes to the meaning of the complete work. Avoid plot summary.

    B. The conflict created when the will of an individual opposes the will of the majority is the recurring theme of many novels. Analyze the conflict of an individual who is in opposition to his society inThe Stranger and discuss the moral and ethical implications for both the individual and the society. Do not summarize the plot or action. 



Assessment will be based on oral discussion and written essay. Additional credit may be given for research and presentations on recording artists, etc. in #5 and/or #7 of procedures. A creative project of any real or abstract representation of the theme of the novel is also possible or a quote from any of the sources used might be the basis of this project.

Selected Recordings

“Killing An Arab” recorded by The Cure (Staring at the Sea, Elektra, 1979); lyrics and music by Smith, Tolhurst, and Dempsey; Bleu Disque Music Co. Inc. (ASCAP).

“Time” recorded by Pink Floyd (Pulse, Columbia, 1995); lyrics and music by Mason, Gilmour, Waters, and Wright; Hampshire House Publishing Corp. (ASCAP).

“Synchronicity II” recorded by The Police (Synchronicity, A&M, 1983); lyrics and music by Sting; EMI Blackwood Music Inc.

“Who You Are” recorded by Pearl Jam (No Code, Epic, 1996); lyrics and music by Pearl Jam (Gossard, Irons, Vedder); Write Treatage Music, A BMI Publisher and Innocent Bystander.

“Little Boxes” recorded by Malvina Reynolds (Malvina, Cassandra Records, 1972); lyrics and music by Malvina Reynolds; Schroder Music Company.

“The Stranger” recorded by Billy Joel (The Stranger, Sony, 1977); lyrics and music by Billy Joel; 1977 Impulsive Music (ASCAP).

“Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” recorded by Billy Joel (The Stranger, Columbia, 1977); lyrics and music by Billy Joel; 1977 Impulsive Music (ASCAP).

Enrichment/Additional Resources

Borges, Jorge Luis. “Rosendo’s Tale.” World Literature. Ed. Donna Rosenberg. Lincolnwood (Chicago): NTC Publishing Group, 1992.

Camus, Albert. The Stranger. Trans. Stuart Gilbert. New York: Vintage Books, 1954.