Rainsford, a noted hunter, falls off a ship and swims to a foreboding island. He finds there the evil General Zaroff who, with the help of his brutish assistant, hunts humans for sport. After three days of fighting for his life in the jungle while Zaroff hunts him, Rainsford surprises Zaroff and kills him. At the story’s end, it is not clear if Rainsford will leave the island or take Zaroff s place.
Violence and Cruelty
Essentially an action-packed thriller, Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” builds around explosions of violence. The violence of his malicious host, General Zaroff, initially shocks Rainsford, but as he fights to stay alive he becomes caught up in Zaroff’s game. Zaroff attempts to justify his violence with “civilized”‘ arguments. He poses as a modern rationalist and argues against “romantic ideas about the value of human life” and then scolds Rainsford for being “extraordinarily droll” in his response. Zaroff continually defends his murderous desires as the sophisticated and rational extension of hunting animals.
Issues of violence and cruelty in “The Most Dangerous Game” exist not only on a literal level but on a symbolic level as well. As Connell directs the reader to sympathize with Rainsford, the reader feels what it is like to be a hunted animal. Zaroff shows off his animal heads and after describing his new prey, he refers to his “new collection of heads,” which are supposedly human. This comparison of decapitated heads opens up parallels between the murder of humans and the murder of animals. If hunting humans for kicks is murder, Connell asks, then how does this differ from hunting animals?
The story also stimulates an array of questions surrounding the nature of violence. Zaroff seems to enjoy violence intensely and thoroughly. Rainsford himself is a hunter of considerable fame. Indeed, Connell structures the entire story around violence and implicates readers through their involvement in the story. Just as the story is ostensibly about a man who enjoys killing, the story’s success rests on the reader’s capacity to enjoy the violence of the plot. As stressed in the title, the reader receives the vicarious experience of risk and danger. Connell mixes violence and cruelty with pleasure to engage the reader and make a statement at the same time.
The conclusion of “The Most Dangerous Game” inspires many questions, including: Has Rainsford become a murderer just like General Zaroff? How has he changed, and why? Although he won the game, and General Zaroff appeared ready to set him free, Rainsford still killed Zaroff. Zaroff s murder, therefore, is not self defense, as it would have been before Rainsford won the game. It is either an act of revenge or a killing for sport.
When he first learns of Zaroff s sport, Rainsford is horrified. Yet, during the game he kills the dog and Ivan and does not indicate remorse. Connell thus opens up the possibility that playing the game changes Rainsford. He does not set the other “prey” free as soon as he murders Zaroff. Does he intend to free them, or does his pleasant night’s rest indicate a desire to stay on the island? Will he merely replace General Zaroff? Sparing Zaroff could have brought the opportunity for authorities to prosecute Zaroff for his crimes, but Rainsford resorted to the violence he initially abhorred.
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, Richard Connell, Published by Gale, 1997.