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The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Edward Connell
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How are Rainsford and Zaroff different, and how are they alike in "The Most Dangerous Game"?

Rainsford and Zaroff are different when it comes to the moral issue of hunting fellow human beings. Rainsford considers it "murder," while Zaroff scoffs at Rainsford for romanticizing the value of human life. Both are alike, however, in being expert hunters and dividing the world into the hunters and the hunted.

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When it comes to their differences, it can be argued that while Zaroff is some sort of psychopath, Rainsford is a rational-thinking, ordinary sort of man. With regard to the matter of hunting an animal that can reason—in other words, men—Rainsford argues that this is murder, while to Zaroff, it is simply a new style of hunting.

While Zaroff has grown bored with the conventional hunting of animals, this sport is still a passion for Rainsford. In a nutshell, Rainsford adheres to societal norms and is a law-abiding citizen. Zaroff, as the story soon reveals, is a ruthless murderer.

In terms of how they are alike, Rainsford and Zaroff share a passion for hunting. Rainsford has written a book about "hunting snow leopards in Tibet," which indicates that he is an expert on the subject. When Rainsford enters Zaroff's dining room, he notices the mounted heads of various animals from all over the world, from lions to bears, including the largest Cape Buffalo that Rainsford has ever seen. This provides an immediate indication of Zaroff's passion for the sport.

Thanks to their wide knowledge of hunting, both men are familiar with "Malay mancatchers" and "Burmese tiger pits." Another similarity that must be noted is that both men are extremely intelligent and highly adept at hunting. Rainsford is constantly impressed at Zaroff's ability to track him using even the smallest clue. In the end, however, it is Rainsford who gains the upper hand, swimming back to the "lofty structure with pointed towers" that Zaroff calls home.

Arguably the biggest difference between the two is that while Zaroff is arrogant, Rainsford is determined. Zaroff's arrogance leads him to think that his expertise, experience, and pack of hunting dogs would win him the upper hand. Rainsford, on the other hand, has the determination required to beat his psychotic "host" at his own game.

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Sanger Rainsford and the maniacal General Zaroff both share an affinity for big-game hunting and are experts in that particular field. Rainsford is a famous big-game hunter who has published several books, while General Zaroff is also an accomplished hunter who has traveled the world hunting ferocious, spectacular animals. Aside from sharing the same passion for hunting, both Rainsford and Zaroff are intelligent and extremely competitive. Throughout "The Most Dangerous Game," Rainsford is impressed and terrified by Zaroff's acute senses and ability to find his trail in the dark. Similarly, Zaroff is fascinated by Rainsford's ingenuity and skill at making deadly booby traps.

One could also argue that both characters share a similar worldview. At the beginning of the story, Rainsford tells Whitney the world is made up of two classes, "the hunters and the huntees," while Zaroff believes "life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong, and, if needs be, taken by the strong." Both men's worldviews are hierarchical and entitle stronger, capable people of dominating lesser beings. However, Rainsford's worldview does not apply to interactions between humans, while Zaroff's does.

Despite their several similarities and common interest in hunting, Rainsford and Zaroff differ regarding their moral outlook on the value of human life. Rainsford is appalled when he discovers Zaroff hunts defenseless humans on his island, but the general considers it a thrilling experience. Rainsford labels Zaroff a deranged murderer, while Zaroff defends his actions by stating that Rainsford subscribes to a naive "mid-Victorian point of view." The general is also bored with hunting animals, while Rainsford still finds hunting big game exciting and competitive. The general's boredom is his primary reason for creating his game and taking the lives of innocent humans trapped on his island.

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Rainsford and Zaroff are different in their views about hunting human beings. Zaroff scoffs at Rainsford's shock that Zaroff hunts humans. Zaroff wonders that Rainsford romanticizes human life after his experiences fighting in World War I. Perhaps because of these experiences, Rainsford bluntly calls hunting humans "murder."

The men differ, too, in that the older Zaroff suffers from what he calls "ennui" or boredom. He has come to find big-game hunting uninteresting. He feels that he has done it all, that animals are no longer a challenge, and that he needs a new thrill. Rainsford, in contrast, is still interested and engaged in the legitimate activities the world has to offer, such as hunting jaguars.

The men are also very similar. They both thrive on hunting. Neither has a moral problem with killing animal prey. Onboard the ship, when Whitney states that the prey have different feelings about a hunt than the hunter, Rainsford responds,

Don’t talk rot, Whitney. ... You’re a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?

These word echo how Zaroff views hunting. Both Zaroff and Rainsford put their own thrill as hunters ahead of compassion for their prey. However, Rainsford undergoes a reassessment of how much he cares about the feelings of prey when he becomes the prey.

Both men are hierarchical in their thinking, with the world divided into the hunters and the hunted. Their main difference is how they divide the hierarchy. Rainsford, unlike Zaroff, does not wish to put humans in the category of beings permissible to hunt.

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The protagonist and antagonist of the short story "The Most Dangerous Game" share at least one similarity. Rainsford and Zaroff both love the thrill of the hunt, and they have travelled to different parts of the world to kill the big game they view as their greatest challenge. However, the two men differ in most other respects. Where Rainsford travels the globe to seek big game, Zaroff has isolated himself on a remote island in the Caribbean, stocking the it with many of the same animals that Rainsford seeks. Rainsford is still an enthusiastic hunter, while Zaroff has grown bored with the sport. But the biggest division between the two men is their idea of killing: Rainsford restricts his hunt to animals, while Zaroff has moved on to the human prey. This repulses Rainsford, and he wants no part of Zaroff's game nor his hospitality. Forced to play the game anyway, Rainsford proves a skillful adversary for Zaroff; and when the game is over, Zaroff honorably names Rainsford the winner. But by this time, Rainsford's values have changed, and he is ready to play Zaroff's game himself--this time as the hunter. 

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