CONFLICT in Literature

Over the course of the year, five units will focus on different types of conflict as they appear in fiction. Man v. Self, Man v. Man, Man v. Society, Man v. Nature and Man v. Machine are specifically arranged. We begin by looking at characters that struggle with their own identities in unit I. Then, in unit II, we wrangle what sets characters apart from one another. Unit III focuses on literature involving social and cultural restraints on literary figures. This leads to Unit IV’s dissection of our place in the natural world. Finally, the course concludes with texts that examine the implications of our creating artificial intelligence. The connections between the five units will be pointed at along the way. It is the student’s responsibility to harvest overlapping ideas to be used in the mid-term and final.

Beyond the diverse course material, the classes themselves consciously morph. As not everyone learns the same way, this course accommodates for different learning styles and multiple-intelligences. Some students find themselves disconnected from a teacher that lectures from the front, while others get distracted and more reluctant to participate when forced into intimate circular discussion. So a balance of lectures, discussions, debates, presentations, and varying literary exercises will be struck.

In the first unit, the relationship between a character and their sense of self is explored. John Gardner’s Grendel reacquaints students with a familiar literary figure, but from the perspective of the isolated monster. The novel introduces unit concepts like self-image, self-pity, self-loathing, denial, rage, disability, abandonment, loss, hate, and masochism. Edgar Allen Poe’s “A Tell-Tale Heart” provides a canonical embodiment of comparable issues. The short story provides opportunity for guilt, paranoia and shame to rear their literary heads. This moves us into our second novel, Invisible Monsters, by Chuck Palahnuik. The text is non-linear and exaggerated in its approach to man v. self conflict, and deals with gender and substance abuse problems. An edited version of Fight Club, based on the book by Palahnuik, will be shown, following Invisible Monsters, to examine common themes and motifs. Shifting genre, Lord Georges Byron’s play Cain offsets the bizarre relationship Byron is documented as having with himself. Students will identify how an author works out personal issues through composition. Finally, the novel A Confederacy of Dunces has students considering how an environment impacts a character’s sense of self. We begin flirting with how other characters influence self-perception to ready us for Unit II: Man v. Man. 

Conflict in Literature Course Schedule:


Unit I – Human vs. Self

Week 1: (Day 1-5) John Gardner’s Grendel

Week 2: (Day 6-8) Edgar Allen Poe’s “A Tell-Tale Heart”

: (Day 9-10) Chuck Palahnuik’s Invisible Monsters

Week 3: (Day 11-15) Chuck Palahnuik’s Invisible Monsters

Week 4: (Day 16-17) David Fincher’s Fight Club (edited)

: (Day 18-20) Lord George Byron’s Cain

Week 5: (Day 21-22) Lord George Byron’s Cain

            : (Day 23-25) John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces

Week 6: (Day 26-30) John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces

Unit II – Human vs. Human Week 7: (Day 31-35) Christopher Priest’s The Prestige

Week 8: (Day 36-39) Christopher Priest’s The Prestige

         : (Day 40) Cohen Bros’Fargo

Week 9: (Day 41)  Cohen Bros’Fargo

            : (Day 42-44) Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”

         : (Day 45) Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

Week 10: (Day 46-50) Henrik Ibsen’s Dollhouse

Week 11: (Day 51-55) William Shakespeare’s Othello

Week 12: (Day 56-58) William Shakespeare’s Othello

  : (Day 59-60) Tim Blake Nelson’s O

Unit III – Human vs. Society Week 13: (Day 61-65) Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park

Week 14: (Day 66-70) Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park

Week 15: (Day 71-73) Various Poetry concerning race, gender and class.

  : (Day 74-75) Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly

Week 16: (Day 76-80) Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World

Week 17: (Day 81-85) Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World

Week 18: (Day 86-90) Lorraine Hansberry  A Rasin in the Sun

Unit IV – Human vs. Nature Week 19: (Day 91-93) Samuel Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

  : (Day 94-95) Herman Meville’s Moby Dick

Week 20: (Day 96-100) Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

Week 21: (Day 101-105) Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

Week 22: (Day 106-108) Edgar Allen Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelstrom”

  : (Day 109-110) Peter Brook’s Lord of the Flies

Week 23: (Day 111-115)  Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe

Week 24: (Day 116-118) Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe

           : (Day 119-120) Steven Speilberg’s Jurassic Park

Unit V – Human vs. Machine Week 25: (Day 121-124) Karel Capek’s Rossum Universal Robots

  : (Day 125) Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Ted

Week 26: (Day 126-130) Samuel Butler Erehwon

Week 27: (Day 127-135) Samuel Butler Erehwon

Week 28: (Day 136-140) Cronenberg’s Existenz vs. Wachowski’s The Matrix

Week 29-30: (Day 141-150) Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 

Unit One – Index of Day to Day Assignments, Essays & Activities

Unit One: Day to Day Outline

Day 1: Introduce Man vs. Self conflict. Begin examining Grendel.

Day 2: Intertextual Inspection – Grendel in Beowulf

Day 3: Monster Smash – writing exercise

Day 4: Grammar Radiation

Day 5: Comic Corollary – Matt Wagner’s Grendel

Day 6: Bio-Feed – Poe

Day 7: Intertextual Inspection – Simpson’s “Tell Tale Head”

Day 8: Bringing it Home- explore guilt, secrets and deception

Day 9: Inference Initiative - titles

Day 10: Real Time Relevance – substance abuse, self-image and masochism

Day 11: Desperately seeking – writing exercise

Day 12: Grammar Radiation

Day 13: Lyric Linker – Panic at the Disco’s “Time to Dance”

Day 14: Form and Function – outline text events, identify climax

Day 15: In Class Essay

Day 16: View edited  Fight Club

Day 17: View and Critique man v. self in Fight Club




Day 21: Cain Balanced or Biased Debates

Day 22: Cain Balanced or Biased Debates

Day 23: Bio Feed – John Kennedy Toole

Day 24: Cultural Connections – New Orleans in early 1960’s

Day 25: Intertextual inspection – excerpt from Don Quixote

Day 26: Bringing it Home – isolation, dependence, employment & self worth

Day 27: Form and Function – the picaresque novel

Day 28: Real Time Relevance – hasn’t been made a movie; how to pitch this novel?

Day 29: Pitcher – write 3 minute pitch summarizing and “selling” the novel’s concept.

Day 30: Pitcher – deliver pitch to class, evaluate peer pitches.

Unit One – 3 Lesson Plans - Days 18-20

Day 18: Cain Act I (ISBE standards: 2a5d, 2b4a, 2b5a)

Objective: Students will develop an understanding of Byron’s personality and life using technology. They will position him chronologically and rhetorically. They will analyze the first act of Byron’s closet drama Cain identifying the conflict between Cain and himself.


Close Reader Quiz – Fate

a.  The seraphs ________ most; cherubim _________ most.

b. What is Adah’s relationship to Cain?

c.  What kind of work does Cain do?


a.  At the computer lab, do an internet search on Lord George Byron.

b. Write at least three interesting facts to share with the class. While you can investigate any part of his life, one of the three facts should be from the few years surrounding Cain’s publication.

c.  As a class, we will create a working timeline of his life.

   10 Spot Essay: Explain why Cain feels betrayed by his parents?

   Binary Bout: Love vs. Knowledge

Day 19: Cain Act II (ISBE standards: 2a5a, 2a5d, 2b5a)

Objective:  Students will use secondary sources to identify the historical, authorial and cultural implications and impact of the play. They will make connections between the context it was written and the actual work. They will develop further characters analyses.

Close Reader Quiz  - Ghosts

a.  Where does Lucifer bring Cain?

b. What does Lucifer show Cain when they are away?

c.  Who is Eve’s favorite child?

Cultural Connections

                                                 i. The preface credits Cuvier, who founds the Society of Geography in Paris on December 15. His theory of catastrophism and the newly discovered fossils being dug up by the society have grave implications on biblical flood theory.

                                               ii. Byron, like his character Cain, lives estranged from his family.

                                             iii. In Pisa, he lives with his lover and friends Mary and PB Shelley.

                                             iv. At this time, Byron believes his estate to be haunted by ghosts.

                                               v. Byron gets word of his friend, John Pollidori’s suicide. Pollidori wrote The Vampyre which Byron was first credited for.

                                             vi. Cain’s wife name is Adah, Byron’s daughter’s name is Ada.

                                           vii. Byron contends with religious injustice nearly riding to the rescue of a persecuted man.

Character Confessional

a.  Choose Cain, Lucifer or Adah to channel.

b. Through your character’s perspective, write a short paragraph about what you value most and least about life to share with the class.

  Binary Bout: Truth vs. Fiction

  10 Spot Essay: Lucifer reveals the truths the Earth hides about natural history. Why

                      are the words and visions of Lucifer threatening to Cain and his family?

Day 20: Cain Act III (ISBE standards: 2b4b, 2b5a)

Objective: Students will examine the structure and rhetoric of the work as a whole. They will evaluate why and how Cain is a satire, poetic drama and closet drama. They will relate form and function to comparable contemporary exemplifications.

Close Reader Quiz – Loss

a.  How long does Adah say Cain was gone?

b. What does Cain wish of his son Enoch?

c.  How does Abel die?

Form and Function

a.  Define Satire and examine the different forms.

                                                           i. A literary technique of writing or art which principally ridicules its subject often as an intended means of provoking or preventing change

                                                         ii. Irony, sarcasm, exaggeration, parody, incongruity, reversal, and caricature.

b. Define Poetic Drama

                                                           i. Verse drama is any drama written as verse to be spoken; another possible general term is poetic drama

c.  Define Closet Drama

                                                           i. A play not intended for performance; such plays are usually read within a circle of acquaintances

d. Find evidence of satire in Cain. Compare 18th century satire to more   

contemporary examples: Show clips from SNL, The Simpsons, The Office, and

            Waiting for Guffman.

   Binary Bout: Destiny vs. Free Will

   10 Spot Essay: Why does Adah stay with Cain after he murders his brother?