American Interest in Central America and the Caribbean
By 1924, the year “The Most Dangerous Game” was published, the United States was firmly committed to Latin American politics. Military concerns and economic interests, including banking, investments, and the exploitation of natural resources, tied American interests to Latin America and resulted in expansionist legislation. The Platt Amendment of 1901 provided for American intervention in Cuba in case an unstable new government failed to protect life, liberty and property; this was written into Cuba’s constitution. In 1905 President Roosevelt urged European nations to keep out of Latin America. He believed the United States was the only nation that should interfere in their politics. This paternal, interventionist attitude was typical of much of the United States’s Latin American foreign policy. Such policy, highlighted by the construction of the Panama Canal, created solely for the sake of American shipping and naval power, would continue to influence Latin American politics for decades to come.
Latin Americans have consistently wavered between supporting American foreign policy and rejecting it as intrusive, meddlesome, and overpowering. Indeed, America’s and other first-world nations’ continuous economic exploitation of Caribbean and Latin American countries has resulted in a crippling dependence on international trade. By often terrifying, scandalous means, Western companies have controlled the economies of relatively underdeveloped nations like Jamaica, thereby insuring their dependence on foreign trade. The economies of such countries have often become entirely dependent on the corporations that have exploited them, which has frequently resulted in mass poverty. The wrecking of native economies and their growing dependence on international conglomerations has spurred the coining of the term, “banana republics.” Into these turbulent and contested Caribbean waters, Rainsford falls.
Big Game Hunting in South America
In Connell’s era, big-game hunting in South America was done mainly by outfitted safari. The most desired species were jaguar, puma, ocelot, red deer, and buffalo. The jaguar, the most powerful and most feared carnivore in South America, was a prized trophy. It attains a length of eight feet and can weigh up to four hundred pounds. The great cat was hunted primarily with hounds in the forests of Venezuela, Columbia, Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay. In this story, Rainsford and his companions are preparing to hunt jaguar.
Roosevelt and Hunting
Like General Zaroff in Connell’s story, President Theodore Roosevelt, who would later found the National Parks System in the United States, was an insatiable hunter. He traveled all over the globe to hunt. On safari in Africa, Roosevelt and his son killed 512 animals, including 17 lions, 11 elephants, 20 rhinoceroses, 9 giraffes, 8 hippopotamuses and 29 zebras. In the story, Zaroff describes similar hunting trips. Whereas Zaroff’s most dangerous game was the human, Roosevelt considered the American grizzly bear the most threatening—he was nearly mauled by one while hunting in Wyoming. As a youth, Connell lived near Roosevelt in rural New York in an area near the Hudson River known for its pristine wilderness
Bigotry in America
In “The Most Dangerous Game,” Zaroff s comments regarding ethnic types reflect the sentiments of anti-immigrant advocates of the time. Zaroff describes his hunting of men to Rainsford and justifies it by saying, “I hunt the scum of the earth-sailors from tramp ships—Lascars, blacks, Chinese, whites, mongrels—a thoroughbred horse or hound is worth more than a score of them.” In the 1920s, this attitude was not uncommon among Connell’s American audience. Americans whose families had immigrated only decades earlier frequently launched vitriolic attacks against immigrants who were perceived to be inundating the work force and lowering the American standard of living. One writer of the period, Kenneth Roberts, warned that unrestricted immigration would create “a hybrid race of people as worthless and futile as the good-for-nothing mongrels of Central America and Southeastern Europe.” Federal dictates began restricting the entrance of immigrants into America. In 1921, Congress set strict quotas for each European country, and the National Origins Act of 1924 reassigned quotas that gave privilege to British, German, and Scandinavian immigrants over Italians, Poles, and Slavs. The 1924 regulations completely restricted the immigration of Asians, Africans, and Hispanics.
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, Richard Connell, Published by Gale, 1997.