The Most Dangerous Game, written by Richard Connell in January of 1924, is a fictional short story revolving around a cat and mouse game between General Zaroff and Sanger Rainsford. Throughout the story, Sanger Rainsford is forced to use his cunning resourcefulness to survive his encounters with General Zaroff. Connell presents a dynamic story, folding the idea of survival of the fittest into a hunting game between two skilled opponents, he was able to create the most dangerous game. Rainsford is characterized as an intelligent resourceful individual who through incredible struggles survives his encounters with General Zaroff. The setting of this story is shortly after World War I on Ship-Trap Island in the Caribbean. The story has a suspenseful mood focused around continuous conflict. The main idea of this story is the idea of survival of the fittest with the underlying theme of social Darwinism (of two classes).
The plot of this story follows the hunt between General Zaroff and Sanger Rainsford. The story begins when Rainsford and his hunting crew are on a yacht, travelling through the Caribbean, towards the Amazon to go big game hunting. Rainsford mentions how the world is made up of two classes, the hunters and the huntees. He then tells his shipmate, “Luckily, you and I are the hunters” (Connell, 1924, p. 216). They pass by Ship-Trap Island, an island that some say has a bad reputation. Suddenly, Rainsford hears a pistol shot come from the distance. Trying to see, Rainsford drops his pipe into the water. In an attempt to rescue it he falls off the railing into the dark sea. Due to Rainsfords physical fitness he was able to swim to the near by island.
Once he reaches the shore he collapses from exhaustion. The next day he awakens in the late afternoon stranded on the Beach of Ship-Trap Island. He realizes if there are gunshots there are men, and if there are men there is food. Rainsford started making his way through the jungle when he came across a gigantic palatial chateau (palace). He knocks on the door and is greeted by a giant man who has a revolver pointed at him. Rainsford explains who he is and that he had just fallen off of a yacht. A military-looking Russian man calls the giant, who’s name is Ivan, off of Rainsford. Rainsford is then welcomed inside and is greeted by the military man. The man says he’s read a book by Rainsford about hunting. He then introduces himself as General Zaroff, a big game hunter who has hunted every known animal there is and is seeking the perfect match.
Rainsford is a dynamic character because he changes and grows throughout the story. He is also a famous big game hunter and is very resourceful, these are some of the traits that make Rainsford a challenging opponent for Zaroff. The General explains to Rainsford that the hunt has become boring. He says he no longer enjoys the hunt because it has become too easy. Zaroff needs an animal that can reason, not just act upon instinct. That way he cannot predict their next move. There is only one animal who can. Zaroff says hunting is a game, like outdoor chess. He believes life is for the strong, and, if need be, taken by the strong. His belief is that the weak of the world were put here to give the strong pleasure. Zaroff says to Rainsford, “Life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong, and, if need be, taken by the strong” (Connell, 1924, p. 225). Because of this he feels justified in hunting others.
The theme of survival of the fittest is shown throughout the story. General Zaroff believes that “fittest” includes not only the body but also the mind. The General talked about how when ships would crash on the rocks of the island he would bring the survivors into his home, and give them plenty of good food and exercise, before making them his targets. “It’s a game, you see,” pursued the general blandly. “I suggest to one of them that we go hunting. I give him a supply of food and an excellent hunting knife. I give him three hours’ start. I am to follow, armed only with a pistol of the smallest caliber and range. If my quarry eludes me for three whole days, he wins the game. If I find him”—the general smiled—“he loses” (Connell, 1924, p. 226). Zaroff tells Rainsford he wants to go hunting with him. Rainsford declines at first but the General threatens to allow Ivan to whip him if he refuses.
Over the next three days the story follows the cat and mouse game between General Zaroff and Sanger Rainsford. The setting of the story is in the jungle of Ship-Trap Island in the Caribbean. The first day Rainsford takes a series of intricate loops through the jungle where he eventually came to rest on a tree limb. The General finds him but toying with him decides to save him for another days hunt. The second day Rainsford made a trap. However, as the General triggered it he leaped back and only damaged his shoulder. “Let me congratulate you.” He said. “Not many men know how to make a Malay Man-catcher” (Connell, 1924, p. 232). This is an example of one of the many man versus man conflicts in this story. The General went back to dress his wound. Rainsford pressed on through the jungle. As he stepped forward his foot sunk into the ground. He was at Death Swamp and it’s quicksand. He began to dig his way out. When the pit was deep enough he climbed out. As soon as he got out he began sharpening stakes from near by saplings. He put the stakes at the bottom of the pit and covered it with brush. Not long after he heard the sound of the branches give way. He heard the sharp scream of pain as the pointed stakes found their mark. “Your Burmese tiger trap has claimed one of my best dogs” (Connell, 1924, p. 234). Said the General. Zaroff went back to get the rest of his hounds. The mood in this story is suspenseful. Connell uses elaborate detail, slowly capturing his audience in an intense drama.
On the third day Rainsford awakens to the faint sound of the baying put off by the hounds. The sound of the hounds grew nearer, then still nearer. Rainsford climbed a tree to get a better look. He could make out the lean figure of General Zaroff in the distance. They would be on him any minute now. Struggling for ideas Rainsford remembers a native trick he had learned in Uganda. He fastened his knife to a springy sapling and with a piece of wild grapevine he tied it back. Then he ran for his life. The baying of the hounds stopped abruptly and Rainsford’s heart stopped too. The knife, driven by the recoil of the springy tree had made it’s mark on Ivan. Rainsford came to a gap between the trees. Twenty feet below him the sea rumbled and hissed. Rainsford leaped far out into the sea. This is the climax of the story. General Zaroff, returning home empty handed, had an exceedingly good dinner in his great paneled dinning hall that evening. From here on the story resolutely resolved. Zaroff went up to his room to soothe himself by reading. He went to the window and wished his hounds better luck another time, then switched off the light. Hiding in the bed curtains was Rainsford. “Rainsford!” Shouted the General. “How in god’s name did you get here?” (Connell, 1924, p. 236).
“Swam” (Connell, 1924, p. 236). Said Rainsford. “I found it quicker than walking through the jungle” (Connell, 1924, p. 236). The General sucked in his breath and smiled. “I congratulate you” (Connell, 1924, p. 236), he said. “You have won the game” (Connell, 1924, p. 236). Rainsford however, is not ready for the game to end. Calling himself a “beast at bay,” Rainsford calls out to Zaroff to get ready. Zaroff, then realizing his fate, bows dramatically, and makes a comment about feeding the looser to his hounds while the winner sleeps in his bed. The story ends with Rainsford thinking he’d never slept in a better bed.
Connell presents a dynamic story, folding the idea of survival of the fittest into a hunting game between two skilled opponents, he was able to create The Most Dangerous Game. Throughout the story, Rainsford uses his mind to solve problems; instead of acting upon instinct he uses reason. Connell’s choices of making Rainsford an intelligent, resourceful character gave the story a much more meaningful theme. Rainsford is also a dynamic character because he changes and grows throughout the story. Under pressure Rainsford turns fear and anxiety into inspiration. He knows he must not let fear paralyze himself; instead he must use it as a means to energize himself. Instead of being paralyzed by fear Rainsford knew what he had to do and he did it. This is the power of analytical thinking Sanger Ransford used to win The Most Dangerous Game.
- Connell, R. (1924). The Most Dangerous Game. Prentice Hall: Literature, Grade 9, Part 1, Common Core Edition. [Bookshelf Online]. (pp. 215-236). Retrieved from https://online.vitalsource.com/#/books/9781256493495