The Most Dangerous Game - Miami Arts Charter School

Report
Richard Connell
About The Most Dangerous Game
The short story “The Most Dangerous Game” was originally published in Collier’s
Weekly on January 19, 1924. The story has also been published as “The Hounds
of Zaroff.” The main premise of the tale has been adapted numerous times to film
and radio. “The Most Dangerous Game” was published on the heels of World
War I, and is informed by the author's experience in the war. The influence of the
war can be seen in both the moral underpinnings and historical references in the
text. For example, the book brings into question the morality of killing for sport as
well as the presumption that there exists a stark divide between humans and
animals.
In addition, there are numerous historical references to the politics and culture of
Eurasia. Zaroff and Ivan are described as Cossacks. The Cossacks constituted a
group of highly militarized individuals that fought for centuries in the name of the
Czar. They were known for their brutal, violent ways. Connell’s identification of
Zaroff and Ivan as Cossacks helps bolster the feasibility of the plotline. After the
fall of the Czar in 1917, the Cossacks became fiercely hunted by the Soviet
regime. In fact, Zaroff cites this genocidal tragedy as the reason for his flee to
Ship-Trap Island. Much like his Cossack compatriots in Russia, Zaroff finds the
tables turned on him as Rainsford manages to ultimately hunt the hunter.
Richard Edward Connell was born on October
17, 1893 in Poughkeepsie, NY, to Richard
Edward Connell Sr. and Marrie Miller Connell.
His father worked as an editor and reporter for
the local paper before beginning his political
career. His father’s connections at the paper
later proved useful for Connell, as by the age
of 18 he secured a job as an editor. Connell
later attended Georgetown and, after the
death of his father, Harvard. He served in
World War I, and during his service he wrote
and edited the camp newspaper. Upon his
return from the war, he married Louise Herrick
Fox in 1919. Connell’s stories were published in
both the Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s
Weekly. He died in Beverly Hills, CA at the age
of 56.
Connell’s stories won him much acclaim. He won the
O. Henry Memorial Prize twice for his short stories
“A Friend of Napoleon” and “The Most Dangerous
Game.” He was also nominated for an Academy
Award for best original story in 1942 for the film
“Meet John Doe.”
Some of his most notable works include:
“Centenarian” (1916), “The Most Dangerous
Game” (1924), “Heart of a Sloganeer” (1929),
“Cross-Eyed South-Paw” (1929), “Black
Chrysanthemums” (1927), “Brother Orchid” (1938),
The Mad Lover (1927), Murder at Sea (1929), and
Playboy (1936).
Character List
Captain Nielsen
The Swedish captain of the boat from which Rainsford falls. Along with
his crew, he believes that Ship-Trap Island is a place of evil.
General Zaroff
A renowned hunter and Cossack refugee who turned to hunting men
after being unsatisfied by the challenge posed by the fiercest of animals.
Zaroff is a man of contradictions, both highly refined in manners and
deeply uncivilized in morals.
Ivan
General Zaroff's mute assistant. Provides much of the muscle needed to
maintain Zaroff's fantasy island by offering an alternative to the hunt:
those chosen by Zaroff either participate in the hunt or face Ivan's burly,
violent hands.
Sanger Rainsford
The protagonist of the story, Rainsford is a well-known, highly
experienced big-game hunter who has the great misfortune of being
recruited as prey by General Zaroff. He is able to maintain his intellectual
composure during the most frightening of circumstances. He uses this to
his advantage in an attempt to outsmart Zaroff.
Whitney
Rainsford's traveling companion who first cites the rumors of evil and
cannibalism that surround Ship-Trap Island.
Quotes and Analysis
"The best sport in the world," agreed Rainsford.
"For the hunter," amended Whitney. "Not for
the jaguar."
"Don't talk rot, Whitney," said Rainsford.
"You're a big game hunter, not a philosopher.
Who cares how a jaguar feels?"
"Perhaps the jaguar does," observed Whitney.
"Bah! They have no understanding"
This early conversation between Whitney and
Rainsford foreshadows the events to come.
Rainsford will soon experience the position of
the jaguar as he is hunted by Zaroff on ShipTrap island. The brief exchange highlights
Rainsford's outlook on the sport of hunting. He
expresses a lack of empathy for the plight of
the hunted. Over the course of his
experiences, his disposition changes
remarkably.
Quotes and Analysis
The general filled both glasses, and
said: "God makes some men poets.
Some He makes kings, some beggars.
Me He made a hunter. My hand was
made for the trigger, my father said....
My whole life has been one prolonged
hunt."
In this passage Zaroff reveals some of the
ideological underpinnings that drive his
desire to hunt. As is evidenced by the
passage, he truly believes that he was made
specifically for this single pastime. His
passion and exuberance for the sport is allconsuming. Zaroff's identity is hinged on this
sole quality, a fact that makes his hunting of
men all the more believable. This passage is
also indicative of his role as the antagonist of
the story.
Quotes and Analysis
"I wanted an ideal animal to hunt,"
explained the general. "So I said: 'What
are the attributes of an ideal quarry?'
And the answer was of course: 'It must
have courage, cunning, and, above all, it
must be able to reason.”
Zaroff's hunting of men is highly logical,
as shown from the above passage. His
sound thought process makes his desire to
hunt Rainsford all the more terrifying.
This passage is also somewhat of a
moral statement as it demonstrates the
way that humans, through higher
cognitive function, can revert back to a
more heathen state. It is a paradox that
haunts the text.
"I have electricity. We try to be civilized here."
"Civilized? And you shoot down men?"
A trace of anger was in the general's black eyes, but
it was there for but a second, and he said, in his most
pleasant manner: "Dear me, what a righteous young
man you are! I assure you I do not do the thing you
suggest. That would be barbarous. I treat these
visitors with every consideration. They get plenty of
good food and exercise. they get into splendid
physical condition. You shall see for yourself
tomorrow."
This passage is filled with a great deal of
irony. Zaroff presents the hunting of men as a
purely civilized process for the prisoners. He
implies a certain degree of fairness to the
sport when in fact he is robbing his captives of
their freedom and their dignity as men. They
have no choice as toward whether or not they
want to participate. This demonstrates Zaroff's
twisted logic and his somewhat paradoxical
definition of civilization.
The bed was good and the pajamas of the softest silk, and he
was tired in every fiber of his being, but nevertheless Rainsford
could not quiet his brain with the opiate of sleep. He lay, eyes
wide open. Once he thought he heard stealthy steps in the
corridor outside his room. He sought to throw open the door; it
would not open. He went to the window and looked out. His
room was high up in one of the towers. The lights of the
chateau were out now, and it was dark and silent, but there
was a fragment of sallow moon, and by its wan light he could
see, dimly, the courtyard; there, weaving in and out in the
pattern of shadow, were black, noiseless forms; the hounds
heard him at the window and looked up, expectantly, with
their green eyes.
Rainsford's observations on the first night of his stay
at Ship-Trap island include numerous examples of
metaphorical language. The contrast between soft,
light, and civilized with dark wilderness continues
throughout his stay on the island. It is only in the dark
of night that Rainsford is able to see the true nature
of the mansion. The fancy, polished exterior of the
mansion is a facade for the barbarous activities that
take place under the cover of night. Although the hunt
has yet to begin, Rainsford is already trapped by the
hunting dogs. Their eyes watch him as he surveys his
surroundings, preventing him from making any
attempt at an escape.
Quotes and Analysis
"You'll find this game worth playing,"
the general said enthusiastically.
"Your brain against mine. Your
woodcraft against mine. Your
strength and stamina against mine.
Outdoor chess! And the stake is not
without value, eh?“
Zaroff clearly envisions the match against Rainsford
as one that is even. In reality, however, it is not. For
one, Zaroff makes it evident that he is willing to hunt
to the death. His passion for hunting is so profound
that he sees nothing awry with putting everything he
has into it. Rainsford, on the other hand, is an
unwilling participant who is in many ways largely
unprepared for the hunt. Although he is an
accomplished big-game hunter, he has never had to
play the role of prey, and he lacks Zaroff's
familiarity with the island. That Zaroff finds the
match an equal one only builds on Rainsford's
understanding of his twisted psyche.
"I have played the fox, now I must play the
cat of the fable."
This short sentence provides an example of
zoomorphism. Throughout the short story both Zaroff
and Rainsford compare themselves to animals.
Rainsford, through these comparisons, begins to see
himself in the position of a prey animal. Such a
connection helps him empathize with the plight of
those he has hunted in the past. This represents
a change in frame of mind from the very early
parts of the story where he tells his friend Whitney
that jaguars "have no understanding."
Rainsford did not want to believe what his
reason told him was true, but the truth was as
evident as the sun that had by now pushed
through the morning mists. The general was
playing with him! The general was saving him for
another day's sport! The Cossack was the cat; he
was the mouse. Then it was that Rainsford knew
the full meaning of terror.
This passage marks the first time that Rainsford is
truly terrified by his plight. The odds stacked
against him finally manifest themselves as a
response to Zaroff's mind games. In addition, this
short inner monologue provides another example of
zoomorphism. It also brings to light that the hunting
of men is perhaps more cruel than the hunting of
animals for the simple fact that humans are able to
think rationally. The wave of human emotion
resulting from this ability to reason is overwhelming
for Rainsford.
The general made one of his deepest bows. "I
see," he said. "Splendid! One of us is to furnish
a repast for the hounds. The other will sleep in
this very excellent bed. On guard, Rainsford."...
He had never slept in a better bed, Rainsford
decided.
These last few sentences of the story provide a
somewhat cryptic ending. Implied in Rainsford's
statement is his victory over Zaroff. Given that
Zaroff's last words were indicative of a fight, one is
led to believe that Rainsford has killed Zaroff and
won his bed. In a more metaphorical sense,
Rainsfords comment can be read as a literary sigh
of relief. He is no longer subject to the terrifying
hunt. The lack of a fully fleshed out ending allows
the reader to speculate and imagine what could
have happened.
Major Themes
Hunters vs. the hunted
The most obvious theme of "The Most Dangerous
Game" is that which arises from the relationship
of the hunter and the hunted. At the very
beginning of story, Rainsford and Zaroff are
presented as equals. Both characters are wellaccomplished big-game hunters. As the story
unfolds, however, their roles change. Rainsford is
thrust into the position of the hunted. However,
he tries to undermine the game by setting traps
for the hunter. Rainsford's form of hunting is
passive whereas Zaroff's is active.
The fragility of this relationship between the
hunted and the hunter is not only displayed in
the resolution of the story but also through
various passages. For example, Zaroff
describes several interactions with animals that
resulted in injury on his part.
Murder vs. hunting
The central moral theme of the story involves the
distinction between murder and hunting.
Rainsford sees a clear difference between the
two, hence his disgust at Zaroff's hunting of men.
Zaroff, on the other hand, sees his pastime as
similar to a war.
This particular theme remains a source of
tension throughout the story. As Rainsford is
hunted, he does his best to try to destroy Zaroff
through a series of traps. In the end, it is implied
that Rainsford has proven to be the greater
hunter. Rainsford's last line of the story indicates
that he slept in Zaroff's bed. Such an action can
be read as a metaphor for his unwilling
conversion into a hunter of men.
Emphasis on color
The darkness presented in the first scene of the
story continues through the hunt and the
eventual demise of Zaroff. In addition, there
are many references to the color black. Ivan is
described as having a long, black beard.
Zaroff has black eyebrows and a black beard.
The eyes of many of the characters are
described as black pools. The thematic use of
darkness and the color black adds to the
suspenseful, dramatic timbre of the story.
War as a hunt
The theme of war as a hunt resonates through
the back story of "The Most Dangerous Game."
Zaroff explicitly compares his game to warfare,
as a form of justification. He also mentions the
plight of the Cossacks, an ethnic group pushed
out of Russia after the fall of the Czar. The
manner in which they were hunted is similar to
the way Zaroff hunts his current prey as the
Cossacks were known as fierce warriors.
Questioning of accepted logic
Zaroff has a rather demented way of viewing
the world, one that Rainsford has a difficult time
understanding. Zaroff points out numerous times
that the hunting of men is not much unlike the
hunting of wild animals. Moreover, men have
long participated in socially sanctioned
activities, such as wars, that result in the death
of the opposing party. Zaroff's comparisons and
the subsequent hunt constantly raise the question
of the validity of any type of hunting or war.
The irony of humanity
Zaroff is a man of contradictions. While being
an extremely "civilized" man in the sense that he
is knowledgeable about aspects of high culture,
he also presents himself as barbaric. The entire
island is a contradiction. The lavish house stands
starkly against the dark jungle where the hunt
occurs. In some ways, Zaroff can be seen as a
stand-in for humanity. The same irony that
Zaroff presents in "The Most Dangerous Game"
is also present at the pinnacle of civilization
today - highly advanced and educated
civilizations still murdering each other over land
and resources.
Inversion of roles
Throughout the story there are a series of role
inversions. For example, the hunter becomes the
hunted twice. The first time, Rainsford is forced
into the position of prey by Zaroff; the second,
it is Rainsford that hunts Zaroff. The inversion of
roles continues until the end of the story, at
which point Rainsford metaphorically takes on
the role of Zaroff by sleeping in his bed.
Rainsford has ultimately been transformed by
Zaroff's game.
Who is the
protagonist and
antagonist in
this story?
Rainsford is the
protagonist; Zaroff
is the antagonist.
What words describe the setting?
To what extent
does the author
use descriptions of
Zaroff's looks to
define his
character
"Rainsford's first impression was that the man was singularly handsome; his
second was that there was an original, almost bizarre quality about the
general's face. He was a tall man past middle age, for his hair was a vivid
white; but his thick eyebrows and pointed military mustache were as black as
the night from which Rainsford had come. His eyes, too, were black and very
bright. He had high cheekbones, a sharpcut nose, a spare, dark face--the face
of a man used to giving orders, the face of an aristocrat."
Zaroff is a man of contradictions, both highly
refined in manners and deeply uncivilized in morals.
Rainsford notices that Zaroff is a man of distinction,
an aristocrat and soldier who commands respect.
Zaroff has a " cultivated voice," fine clothes, and
"singularly handsome" features.
Why does Rainsford choose to
confront Zaroff in the end , rater
than simply ambush him? what
does this reveal about his
personality ? Cite evidence.
Rainsford is a man who has always risen to
the challenge; he could have simply escaped
and Zaroff would have thought him dead.
However, he wants Zaroff to know he lost and
he wants Zaroff to feel the fear and dread
that the animals, when being hunted, also
feel. He also wants to send Zaroff to his
death and will not have any other ending. He
has won and he wants Zaroff to know.
What is the main
conflict in this story?
Is the main conflict
primarily internal or
external? Explain.
What can be inferred by Rainsford
sleeping in Zaroff’s bed at the end of
the story?
By killing a human Rainsford has gone
down to the level that he believed
Zaroff to be at, and then by sleeping in
his bed we can infer that he has
basically "turned into Zaroff". Rainsford
turned into the monster that he dreaded
the most, his hatred toward the general
turned him into something he previously
was not.
Is there a resolution
in this story or does
Rainsford
experience an
epiphany with no
real end to the
conflict?

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