Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The title immediately introduces the ironic implications of the story. The word “game,” in a tale about two hunters, signifies both the competitive nature of their sport and the victims of it. The most dangerous game is one in which the lives of the hunter and the hunted are equally at risk, and this occurs only when both are men. Rainsford presumes that hunting is a sport involving no more moral consequences than a game such as baseball; he further demonstrates his naïveté by assuming that his victims, big-game animals, have no feelings. These two beliefs, based as they are on Rainsford’s certainty that man is superior to animal, are challenged when he encounters General Zaroff, who has pushed the same ideas to their inhumane limits in his madness.
When Rainsford falls off a boat near Ship-Trap Island, he views the sea as his enemy and the island as his salvation, despite the curious rumors surrounding the place. In the same way, he sees safety in the chateau of General Zaroff. Looming unexpectedly over an otherwise deserted landscape, the chateau represents civilization and Rainsford’s hope of a return to New York. The image of civilization is confirmed when Rainsford meets the general, who wears clothes designed by a London tailor, drinks rare brandy, and serves gourmet meals on fine china. A man of refined taste, the general denies himself nothing, including the luxury of continuing his greatest passion, hunting. Rainsford, a skilled hunter himself, is intrigued. What kind of game, he wonders, can be hunted on an isolated island? When the general informs him that he stocks the island with the only animal that can reason, Rainsford is aghast to realize that Zaroff hunts men. This perversion of sport repels him, and he rejects the...
(The entire section is 718 words.)
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