In what ways do both Rainsford and Zaroff behave like animals and as humans, and which is more prevalent in each man?

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tinicraw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Richard Connell's short story "The Most Dangerous Game" is one of the best in literature that poses difficult questions about humanity's responsibility to--and interaction with--nature, animals, and each other. Both Rainsford and Zaroff are avid hunters who believe that animals should be hunted for sport; however, that philosophy is challenged when Zaroff takes it a step further and decides to hunt men. This concept makes one wonder who is the better species--animals or humans? First of all, animals only kill when they feel threatened (to defend themselves) or in order to eat. Humans (Rainsford and Zaroff), on the other hand, hunt and kill animals for sport. Which scenario is worse? Generally, humans call one another animals when someone behaves savagely, but history has proven that humans can act worse than animals, and for worse reasons, such as for power, for gold, and for glory. Following these lines of thinking would lead one to analyze Connell's story more accurately according to the aforementioned question. It would seem that throughout history, if one  were called an animal, s/he would be the receptor of an insult because animals are considered incapable to reason or to show compassion while surviving in the wild. Therefore, Zaroff is the first to be considered animalistic because he desires to kill his own kind. However, he behaves well by providing his victims/guests the best possible care and advantages before and during the hunt. One could argue that Zaroff's hospitality is impeccable because he provides the best food, clothing, and care to those who participate in his game. But in this twisted sense, animals don't show great care towards their targets before the kill. Humans can deceive, pretend, and "act" the part; animals don't have the reasoning of the mind to do that. It would seem, then, that Zaroff is worse than an animal to that extent.

Rainsford, on the other hand, starts off believing that it is alright for humans to hunt animals, but it is not right for humans to hunt humans. In this way, Rainsford would be more human-like than Zaroff. Rainsford changes his mind, at least for his enemy, after he is hunted by Zaroff. Once Rainsford has been teased and played with in the wild game for three days, he is ready to come off conqueror and eliminate Zaroff once and for all. The story never suggests that Rainsford changes his mind that what Zaroff does is murder; but, he does decide that when one is pushed to defend himself for three days that he is justified in killing his tormentor. Any animal would probably do the same if it found that it finally had the upper hand in an altercation; so, there Rainsford would be considered like an animal there.


In the end, Zaroff doesn't change his mind or his philosophies about his station in life, or that it is his privilege to kill and reign over anyone or anything "beneath" him. Rainsford, though, changes to accept his station in the game and makes a fatal decision. Rainsford could have gotten off of the island without killing Zaroff because Zaroff said if he was alive after three days, he would not kill him. But by that time, Rainsford's psyche had had enough and he kills Zaroff for vengence.

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