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The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Edward Connell

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Explain the theme of "appearance versus reality" in "The Most Dangerous Game." Find two examples from the story to illustrate the theme.

The theme of appearance versus reality is evident in the story when Rainsford and Whitney pass by Zaroff's island on their boat, and Whitney tells Rainsford that the island has an ominous reputation, but Rainsford sees it only as a beautiful island. The narrator describes General Zaroff's home as a palace and inviting place to spend the night, but it is actually the general's hunting ground.

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1. At the beginning of the story, Whitney mentions to Rainsford that the island they are sailing nearby has a bad reputation as an ominous place. Rainsford comments,

Pure imagination...One superstitious sailor can taint the whole ship's company with his fear.

Rainsford sees the island as a typical piece of land in the middle of the sea, but it is actually a terrifying place where General Zaroff conducts his murderous game.

2. When Rainsford swims to the island and sees the general's palatial chateau for the first time, he believes that he is lucky and has found a wonderful, inviting palace to spend the night. Despite the beautiful appearance of Zaroff's chateau, Rainsford has entered the home of a maniacal murderer, where he will not spend a peaceful night.

3. After dinner, General Zaroff shows Rainsford the device he uses to manipulate ships into sailing into dangerous waters by flicking a switch, which flashes a light out at sea used to indicate a channel. Instead of a channel, there are sharp rocks that destroy ships and force the sailors to swim to the nearby island, where Zaroff proceeds to hunt them. The light that indicates a false channel is an example of appearance versus reality.

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Richard Connel's short story "The Most Dangerous Game" is about a big game hunter who has the tables turned on him as he becomes the prey in a deadly contest on a remote island.

Sanger Rainsford accidentally falls from a yacht and swims to an island where he comes upon the "palatial chateau" of General Zaroff. Zaroff lives in splendor. His house features every comfort including a "canopied bed," clothes from a "London tailor," a "baronial hall," "linen," "crystal" and much more. Zaroff comments:

"We do our best to preserve the amenities of civilization here. Please forgive any lapses. We are well off the beaten track, you know. Do you think the champagne has suffered from its long ocean trip?" 

The general's observation, of course, is ironic. The appearance is of "civilization" but what Zaroff is doing on the island is quite savage. In reality, he may live in luxury, but he is a barbarian who get his kicks by hunting and killing men.

Another example of appearance defying reality is at the end of the story when the general is shown reading a book by the Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius:

In his library he read, to soothe himself, from the works of Marcus Aurelius. 

Aurelius's stoicism preached virtue and ethical behavior. It is highly ironic that the sociopath Zaroff would be reading works of philosophy which were far removed from his own reprehensible behavior. 


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