In Richard Connell's short story "The Most Dangerous Game," is General Zaroff civilized?

Expert Answers

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

In Richard Connoll's "The Most Dangerous Game," General Zaroff demonstrates all the material qualities of a refined gentleman of society. His clothing is well-made and he dresses impeccably. He is obviously an educated man: knowledgeable of the world and well-spoken. Zaroff lives in a magnificently appointed home, and dines on excellent food and wine. Based upon the broad interpretation of being civilized, one would (at first glance) be impressed by the polished and elegant lifestyle he leads; most likely he would be considered civilized.

One definition of civilized is...

...polite; well-bred; refined…well organized or ordered...

Another defines civilized as...

...marked by well-organized laws and rules about how people behave with each other.

We can infer Zaroff is aware of laws and rules, and the acceptable [civilized] behavior of human beings because he knows that he must hide his twisted beliefs and actions on a remote island. However, until his secrets are revealed, Zaroff seems to be extremely civilized. The reader, like Sanger Rainsford, perceives a man of class and breeding. 

Zaroff carries himself straight and tall, is wearing evening clothes, has a cultivated voice, and demonstrates politeness in greeting his unexpected guest. The clothes he lends to Rainsford, the food and the house support the illusion of civilized behavior.

By reading carefully, the reader may recognize foreshadowing when Zaroff describes Ivan:

"Ivan is an incredibly strong fellow," remarked the general," but I’m afraid, like all his race, a bit of a savage […] He is a Cossack. So am I."

At first, Zaroff's comment seems prejudicial, calling Ivan's race savage...until Zaroff admits that he and Ivan are both Cossacks.

Another statement Zaroff makes must cause one to wonder:

There is no greater bore than perfection.

What an odd statement by which to refer to oneself. Having defeated every quarry he had faced, he imagined that he was perfect. Since this is an impossible human condition, the reader might well be concerned about Zaroff's true character and/or state of mind.

It is not until Rainsford has spent some time with Zaroff, enjoying a most civilized evening, that the general shows just how savage he is. Zaroff, like Rainsford, is an accomplished hunter. When he had vanquished the most dangerous of animals in the world, he became bored and looked for something that might provide him once more with the thrill of the hunt. The only challenge left was to find a unique animal:

It must have courage, cunning, and, above all, it must be able to reason.

Rainsford knows that only humans can reason. He is mortified by Zaroff's suggestion: 

I can't believe you are serious, General Zaroff. This is a grisly joke...what you speak of is murder.

If this is not shocking enough, Rainsford soon learns that this is not a theoretical discussion they are having. Zaroff has lured ships to destruction and captured sailors, using them in the hunt.

Zaroff brushes this aside saying that these aren't men of any value:

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.

Then Zaroff tries to define civilized behavior in terms of the things the reader sees at the beginning of the story: expensive clothes, extravagant food, etc. 

I have electricity. We try to be civilized here.

Rainsford challenges Zaroff's humanity:

Civilized? And you shoot down men?

Once Rainsford recognizes Zaroff's perverse and skewed perspectives, he realizes that Zaroff has no concept of civilized behavior as society views it.

Zaroff is not a civilized man.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

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