A central theme of "The Most Dangerous Game" is hunting. Connell invites the reader to actively and critically reflect on hunting as a sport, as a way of life, and as a metaphor for man's inherently violent and primitive nature.
The moral and political climate in the world during the years immediately following WWI influenced and contributed to both the meaning and impact of this story. At the time "The Most Dangerous Game" was written, big game hunting was a sport promoted and enjoyed by many of the world's powerful and elite. Notable among these famous hunters was President Theodore Roosevelt, who pursued the pastime with a zealous passion. Roosevelt hunted and killed an impressive variety of animals in incredible numbers. He led many widely publicized hunting expeditions around the globe. Grand hunting expeditions were common in South America during this period, and the jaguar was a common and highly prized trophy. Roosevelt himself participated in one such safari. On the other hand, Roosevelt is also remembered as a great conservationist, using his power to establish the National Park Service, preserving many vast wildernesses and the animals in them for prosperity. Also, the terrible and bloody carnage of WWI was fresh in the minds of people all over the world, tending to desensitize many to the value of human life while galvanizing others to seek the preservation of all living things. It was within this atmosphere of stark contrast and ideological conflict that Connell wrote the "The Most Dangerous Game."
Sangor Rainsford, the protagonist, is both a veteran of WWI and a celebrated American big game hunter. Rainsford has devoted his life to hunting all sorts of animals, all over the world, always searching for bigger, more challenging prey. Contrasting with the rough and tumble outdoorsman image conjured by his hunting prowess, Rainsford is also a man of letters, the author of books on hunting that have made him known to hunters worldwide. Rainsford is intelligent, resourceful, and in excellent physical condition. When Rainsford's companion, Whitney, questions the morality of hunting, Rainsford counters by contending that animals have no feelings, no understanding of life or death. When Whitney replies that they likely feel pain and fear of death, Rainsford rejects the notion and rationalizes that "the world is made up of two classes—the hunters and the hunted."
General Zaroff is himself a study in contrasts. Like Rainsford, he is also a veteran of both war and of a lifetime of hunting. He is a gracious and genteel host that extends a warm and grand welcome to Rainsford, an unexpected guest. Zaroff is well-traveled, well-educated, well-read, and has mastered several languages. The General's speech and dress suggest he is a gentleman and the product of wealth and social ascendancy. Zaroff's home and his refined hospitality reflect Old World sophistication and civility. Yet, under this facade is a viscous killer who, bored with the lack of challenge offered by more traditional "big game," turns to hunting human beings in order to satisfy his insatiable need for killing and to insure his continued amusement. Zaroff considers the men whom he captures with his ship trap to be little more than animals, inferior to him to the extent that he feels no guilt for what he does. He justifies his actions with an allusion to Darwin, where he asserts that "Life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong, and, if need be, taken by the strong." Zaroff sees himself as one of the strong....
(The entire section is 1431 words.)