At the beginning of Connell's celebrated short story "The Most Dangerous Game," Rainsford and Whitney discuss the sport of hunting and have completely opposite views on the relationship between the hunter and prey. When Rainsford remarks that hunting is the best sport in the world, Whitney sympathizes with the prey by saying, "For the hunter... Not for the jaguar" (Connell, 1). Rainsford proceeds to criticize Whitney and could care less about the prey. Rainsford even asks, "Who cares how a jaguar feels?" (Connell, 1). Whitney continues to view the sport of hunting from the jaguar's perspective and believes that animals can sense fear, pain, and danger while they are being hunted.
Rainsford continues to disagree with Whitney, states that animals cannot comprehend their dire circumstances, and encourages him to be a realist. He also believes that animals cannot experience emotions and simply function on instinct. Rainsford then comments,
The world is made up of two classes—the hunters and the huntees. (Connell, 1)
Rainsford believes in survival of the fittest and feels that a dominant, superior human has the authority to take the life of an animal. His narrow, intolerant philosophy of dividing the world into two classes parallels General Zaroff's personal philosophy that "Life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong, and, if needs be, taken by the strong" (Connell, 8). Ironically, Rainsford falls off the yacht and swims to Ship-Trap Island, where he becomes Zaroff's prey and discovers what it is like to be hunted by a superior being. Throughout his experience, Rainsford develops sympathy for animals and understands the same feelings of terror, anxiety, and pain animals experience after avoiding General Zaroff during the most dangerous game.
In the beginning of "The Most Dangerous Game," Rainsford and Whitney have a discussion about hunting, more specifically as it would be seen from the perspective of the jaguars. Whitney is the one who broaches this turn of conversation, showing some degree of empathy for the animals (even if, it should be stated, he too is a hunter). Rainsford is altogether dismissive of this line of thought, answering Whitney's musings with the question, "who cares how a jaguar feels?"
As far as Rainsford sees it, this entire line of thinking amounts to abstract nonsense, of no practical use. He sees no reason to consider the feelings of the animal: they hold no weight for him. Of course, there is an irony here, when viewed in the context of the story as a whole, because later on in the story, it will be Rainsford finds the position of the animal, facing off against the hunter Zaroff, who likewise has no empathy for his own victims, and is solely interested in the thrill of hunting them.
Throughout the whole of his life Rainsford has always had the privilege of being a hunter, not the hunted. As such, his perspective is rather skewed, to say the least. It's fair to say that he's never once stopped to consider that animals might have feelings. To him, they're just quarry to be stalked, shot, and kept as trophies.
In his conversation with Whitney, Rainsford makes it abundantly clear that animals have no feelings and can thus be treated by man however he pleases. Furthermore, he reveals his rather crude philosophy of life by dividing up the world into the hunters and the hunted.
Little does Rainsford know that out there on Ship-Trap Island there's a man who believes the exact same thing. Only General Zaroff—for it is he—has extended the category of the hunted to include human quarry. When Rainsford finds out about this, he'll also discover what it's like to be on the other side, what it's like to be a hunted animal.
The conversation between Rainsford and Whitney at the beginning of Richard Connell's short story "The Most Dangerous Game" is important because it provides foreshadowing for later events and winds up being highly ironic. The discussion involves Rainsford's assertion that hunted animals have no feelings and experience neither fear nor pain. Rainsford believes that Whitney's argument about animals having feelings is nonsense. He tells Whitney,
"Be a realist. The world is made up of two classes—the hunters and the hunters. Luckily, you and I are the hunters."
He basically suggests that the purpose of the animal is to provide enjoyment for the hunter. This discussion proves to foreshadow Rainsford's later encounter with General Zaroff who uses a variation of Rainsford's argument in his explanation of why he hunts men:
"If I wish to hunt, why should I not hunt? I hunt the scum of the earth—sailors from tramp ships—lascars, blacks, Chinese, whites, mongrels—a thoroughbred horse or hound is worth more than a score of them."
Just as Rainsford had rationalized hunting to Whitney, Zaroff echoes Rainsford's opinion that the hunter has no restrictions in pursuing his avocation. When the tables are turned and Rainsford becomes the prey, it is highly probable that Rainsford's attitude drastically changes, revealing the irony in his earlier argument to Whitney. When he confronts Zaroff at the end of the story he claims that he is still a "beast at bay." He now understands the fear and pain of the hunted animal.
There is quite a contrast between how Rainsford feels about hunting and how Whitney feels. Consider this conversation.
"The best sport in the world," agreed Rainsford.
"For the hunter," amended Whitney. "Not for the jaguar."
"Don't talk rot, Whitney," said Rainsford. "You're a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?"
Rainsford does not care how the animal feels, and it has never occurred to him to think about it.
Rainsford has always been a hunter. In fact, we learn that he wrote a book on the subject.