Richard Connell’s short story “The Most Dangerous Game” is a fascinating examination of the value of life and the hypocrisy of many of the worlds hunters. Throughout the story Connell uses strong imagery and symbolism to force the reader into a suspenseful and uncomfortable situation as they closely follow Sanger Rainsford. Rainsford is forcefully thrown into the role of prey as he is hunted by a madman on a completely isolated island. During this ordeal Rainsford (a skilled hunter himself) is forced to reexamine his thoughts on his favorite sport as he experiences what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a hunt.
What makes Rainsford such a fascinating character is how closely he resembles the antagonist of the story, General Zarroff. Both are wealthy hunters with backgrounds in the military. Both have very high expectations of those around them and have a slight superiority complex. Rainsford clearly states his thoughts on social status as he divides the world into “two classes– the hunters and the huntees” (Connell 2). This displays a clear disrespect for the lower class citizens of the world and reflects his view of the animals he hunts. “I rather think they [animals] understand one thing–fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death” (2). Rainsford displays complete nonchalance towards the creatures kills for sport; he acknowledges that they are capable of feeling but that it matters little, and should not hinder his game.
Sanger Rainsford is forced to confront his own views when he is faced with General Zarroff. Zarroff is even wealthier than Rainsford and serves as a caricature of the protagonist. He is a skilled hunter and has less value for life. He views everything around him as a possible plaything, a piece on his giant chessboard. He is simultaneously everything that Rainsford wants to be and everything he would hate to become. Zarroff has become bored with hunting animals and has chosen to hunt humans. Rainsford is appalled by this notion, but his own attitude towards animals is seen in Zarroff. Rainsford is forced to examine his own point of view when he is confronted with an invitation to participate in Zarroff’s game.
Rainsford suddenly experiences what it’s like to be a hunters prey when Zarroff sets him lose on the island. Connell describes each moment of the final hunt with excruciating detail, drawing the reader into the suspense. Rainsford goes so far as to describe Zarroff as “the devil himself” (17), and acknowledges that this is how animals have viewed himself. Rains ford’s experience as a hunter allows him to get the upper hand and he displays clear ingenuity as he builds traps and winds his way through the forest. The final face off between Rainsford and Zarroff is deeply satisfying and the ambiguity as the end leaves much to the imagination. I theorize that Rainford has leaned the true value of all life and will not continue to hunt for sport.
Richard Connell is using this story to make a clear statement about the value of life during times of war. He uses Zarroff’s island as a smaller version of the first world war, in which men hunted men like animals. Rainsford and Zarrof are meant to parallel each other in order to display that enemies in war are not always so different form each other, and it is important to examine what it is like to be on the receiving end of an attack. I am currently teaching this story to my eighth graders and I have never seen them so excited about a story. They have dived headlong into the plot and many of them are hunters themselves and it will be interesting to see their input on the statement that Connell is making.