In Richard Connell's short story "The Most Dangerous Game," is the characterization direct or indirect?

In "The Most Dangerous Game," the characterization is indirect.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Characterization is how an author presents a character's personality. The two methods for doing so are direct characterization and indirect characterization. Direct characterization has the author divulging to the reader a character's personality traits outright ("Jane was a greedy kid"), while indirect characterization generally reveals personality through the character's words or actions (we see Jane hoarding cookies during snack time at the expense of the other kids).

In "The Most Dangerous Game," characterization is indirect. The characters' personalities are not described outright, but they do share their philosophies and motives through dialogue. For example, Rainsford's first exchange with Whitney reveals a great deal about him:

"It will be light enough in Rio," promised Whitney. "We should make it in a few days. I hope the jaguar guns have come from Purdey's. We should have some good hunting up the Amazon. Great sport, hunting."

"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?"

"Perhaps the jaguar does," observed Whitney.

"Bah! They've no understanding."

"Even so, I rather think they understand one thing—fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death."

"Nonsense," laughed Rainsford. "This hot weather is making you soft, Whitney. Be a realist. The world is made up of two classes—the hunters and the huntees. Luckily, you and I are hunters. Do you think we've
passed that island yet?"

Within these few lines, the reader learns Rainsford is a passionate hunter characterized by arrogance and lack of compassion for the animals he hunts. It can also be inferred that he has never known true fear or what it is to be hunted. He never says any of that directly, but the reader is able to glean it from the conversation.

The physical description of Zaroff is also indirect: Rainsford gets the impression of an aristocrat, signifying culture and intelligence, but then he sees that Zaroff has "red lips and pointed teeth," creating a savage contrast with his "handsome" appearance. The narrator never says "Zaroff looked like a predator with his sharp teeth and red lips," because the reader can already make that connection on their own.

These details are meant to make the reader uneasy before it is revealed that Zaroff hunts humans for sport, which is one of the subtle strengths of indirect characterization. Had O'Connell outright said, "Zaroff looked like a monster and he had no respect for human life," the suspense and pacing would have been sacrificed.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Characterization is the way characters in a story are presented. This helps readers not only get to know the characters, but it also helps to structure the story's plot. Indirect characterization is when the reader learns of the character's motives and personality based on other character's perceptions and comments or the author's description of the character's actions, thoughts, or words. Direct characterization is when an author (or the character himself) clearly describes a character's looks and personality. Direct characterization is a technique used mostly in Richard Connell's short story "The Most Dangerous Game," because General Zaroff clearly defines himself and his motives through his own speech to Rainsford. Indirect characterization may sometimes be used to create ambiguity that requires the reader to use inference to understand the character.

An example of direct characterization is when Rainsford meets General Zaroff and the narrator explains:

"Rainsford's first impression was that the man was singularly handsome; his second was that there was an original, almost bizarre quality about the general's face. He was a tall man past middle age, for his hair was a vivid white; but his thick eyebrows and pointed military mustache were as black as the night from which Rainsford had come. His eyes, too, were black and very bright. he had high cheekbones, a sharp-cut nose, a spare, dark face, the fa of a man used to giving orders, the face of an aristocrat."

For awhile, however, as Zaroff is talking, it seems ambiguous as to where he is going about his hunting career. The reader might wonder what the point to his long story is even though he is talking about himself and revealing his personality. This technique captures the reader's interest as s/he reads on to find out more about the character. An example of this indirect characterization can been seen as Zaroff divulges his personal philosophy on life:

"Life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong, and if need be, taken by the strong. The weak of the world were put here to give the strong pleasure. I am strong. Why should I not use my gift? If I wish to hunt, why should I not?"

Since General Zaroff openly discusses himself, and the reader clearly receives a breakdown of his physical features, wealth, and interests, direct characterization is more prominent than indirect characterization in Connell's short story.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial