“The Most Dangerous Game,” a gripping tale that pits man versus man in a South American jungle, includes elements that recall several literary genres, including Gothic, action-adventure, and horror.
In “The Most Dangerous Game,” Richard Connell provides an ominous setting typical of the Gothic genre. Horrible sounds and dismal sights fill the background of this story, and the details become more frightening and typical of both the horror and action-adventure genres as the story progresses. When he falls off the yacht, Rainsford immediately finds himself in the “blood warm waters of the Caribbean sea”—an indication of worse things to come. He fights through the surf, listening to gunshots and the screams of dying animals he later finds out were humans. Rainsford passes over rocks that he could have “shattered against” only to leave “the enemy, the sea” for “knit webs of weeds and trees.” The environment is consistently malicious, dangerous, and unyielding.
At first, Rainsford believes the “lofty structure with pointed towers plunging upwards into the gloom” is a “mirage.” The house is not a literal mirage, but its civilized facade is soon shattered in the ensuing violence. Rainsford encounters many of the foreboding indicators of a haunted mansion: the “tall spiked gate,” the “heavy knocker” on the door gate that creaks, and the gigantic scale of the rooms decorated as if in “feudal times.” The table large enough for “two score men,” and the ominous “mounted heads of many animals—lions, tigers, elephants, moose, bears; larger or more perfect than Rainsford had ever seen” add to the fearful, medieval horror setting. The wild jungle outside, complete with a “Death Swamp,” echoes the adventure genre. Connell sets the “game” in a dangerous wilderness of quicksand, wild seas, fallen trees, mud and sand, and rocky cliffs.
Point of View
“The Most Dangerous Game” features an omniscient third-person narrator. The narrator describes things from Rainsford’s perspective for most of the story but breaks away toward the end to follow General Zaroff back to his “great paneled dining hall,” to his library, and then to his bedroom. A possible reason for this shift in perspective may be that Connell wants to illustrate how the hunter, Zaroff, has become the hunted.
Connell structures “The Most Dangerous Game” tightly and concisely to complement the story’s action. He writes with an often abbreviated style that rapidly moves the reader along through the plot. Twists and turns proceed with little description; this emphasizes those moments when the narrative slows down and tension is generated. The story features a classic device of the horror genre: the moment in which time slows down, and a second seems like an hour. Many words are used to describe a short interval of time, so the reader’s experience of time slows down and the moment acquires a greater importance in relation to the remainder of the text. Examples of this include when Rainsworth falls in the water and when he waits for the general in the tree.
In contrast, Connell takes a different approach at the end of the story. Having stretched out intense moments throughout the story, including the involved description of General Zaroff s return, Connell quickly describes the final confrontation. He grants it only a few paragraphs of sparse dialogue before ending the scene abruptly with “He had never slept in a better bed.” By describing none of the final battle, Connell stretches the suspense as far as he can. He waits until the last two words of the story to reveal the survivor with: “Rainsford decided.”
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, Richard Connell, Published by Gale, 1997.