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...
(The entire section is 718 words.)
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"The Most Dangerous Game" is a story about hunting and about human nature. It explores the fine line between the hunter and the hunted, between hunting and bloodlust, between killing and murder. In the story, the author challenges readers to reflect on their own convictions regarding hunting as a sport and what it means to be civilized. The title of the story has two meanings. It speaks of the game-like, competitive nature of hunting for sport and personal pleasure while also referring to the object of the hunt. Since the most cunning and resourceful animal on earth is man, he is "The Most Dangerous Game".
(The entire section is 105 words.)
The celebrated hunter Sanger Rainsford, while aboard a yacht cruising in the Caribbean, falls into the sea. While swimming desperately for shore, he hears the anguished cries of an animal being hunted; it is an animal he does not recognize. Rainsford makes it to land and after sleeping on the beach, he begins to look for people on the island. He finds evidence of the hunt he overheard and wonders, upon finding empty cartridges, why anyone would use a small gun to hunt what was, according to the evidence, obviously a large animal. Rainsford then follows the hunter's footprints to the solitary house on the island.
The mansion looms above him like something out of a Gothic novel and inside is a similarly Gothic character as well: Ivan, a gigantic, mute man. Ivan is about to shoot Rainsford when the entry of another man stops him. The second man, General Zaroff, is far more civilized looking than Ivan and has exquisite manners. He apologizes for Ivan and gives Rainsford clean clothes and dinner. While the men are eating, Zaroff reveals his passion for the hunt. He tells Rainsford he hunts "big game" on the island—game he has imported. Hunting had ceased to be a challenge to Zaroff, so he decided to hunt a new animal, one that could reason. Rainsford realizes with horror that Zaroff actually hunts humans and wonders what happens if a man refuses to be hunted. He finds there is no refusing Zaroff, for either a man goes on the hunt or he is turned over to the...
(The entire section is 706 words.)