The Gothic elements of the short story create a blood-chilling, eerie mood. From the gargoyle doorknocker to the animal heads as trophies on the wall, the story reeks with elements of the grotesque and sensational. Juxtaposed with this is cosmopolite refineness (James Bond style) as Zaroff pours Rainsford champagne and serves him lavish dinners. The mixture of barbarism and high culture adds to schizophrenic profile of Zaroff, who plays the intermittant roles of gentleman and devil.
Another aspect creating tension in the story is the "no way out" situation Rainsford finds himself in. He is stuck on Zaroff with no way to possibly escape and must meet the hunter on his own ground. Doubling back to the castle instead of staying in the jungle or tempting his chances at sea is Rainford's means to finally reverse the situation and win. By catching Zaroff off guard and unarmed, he finally beats the psychopath hunter at his own game.
The ambivalent role of Rainsford at the end of the story is also disquietening. Although killing Zaroff in pure self-defense, Rainford feels no remorse but sleeps very soundly that same night. If Rainsford has indeed escaped bodily harm, can the same be said of his soul? Will he 'calll it a day' and go home or will he be tempted to stay and rule the island as his own?
Connell builds suspense in The Most Dangerous Game from the very beginning. The story begins with a dialogue betwen two characters, Whitney and Rainford. Whitney is decribing a mysterious island to Rainford, the unfortunate protagonist who will end up on the island.
"OFF THERE to the right--somewhere--is a large island," said Whitney." It's rather a mystery--"
"What island is it?" Rainsford asked.
"The old charts call it `Ship-Trap Island,"' Whitney replied." A suggestive name, isn't it? Sailors have a curious dread of the place. I don't know why. Some superstition--"
Clearly, there is something sinister about "Ship-Trap Island." This ominous mood is emphasized by the "thick warm blackness" of the night, which has so hidden the island that Rainsford, praised for his "good eyes" is unable to see it.
Dialogue is not the only method through which Connell builds suspense about the island. When Rainsford falls into the sea, he swims desperately toward the fateful island. Connell describes the island through Rainsford's eyes. The island is characterized by "jagged craws," "cliffs," and "dense jungle."
The only building on the island is the classic castle on a cliff, as mysterious and sinister as the island itself:
--a lofty structure with pointed towers plunging upward into the gloom. His eyes made out the shadowy outlines of a palatial chateau; it was set on a high bluff, and on three sides of it cliffs dived down to where the sea licked greedy lips in the shadows.
"Mirage," thought Rainsford. But it was no mirage, he found, when he opened the tall spiked iron gate. The stone steps were real enough; the massive door with a leering gargoyle for a knocker was real enough; yet above it all hung an air of unreality.
Connell also uses plot and characterization to build suspense.
Though Rainford finds the primary antagonist, General Zaroff, pleasant and amicable at first, small details foreshadow the General's true nature. The General describes himself as a "savage," and his manner is too aristocratic.
The key dialogue between General Zaroff and Rainford that reveal's the general's diabolical hobby is also filled with suspense. The general's reasoning is systematic and his explanation gradual, building up suspense up to the moment that Rainsford realizes that the general is a hunter of humans.
General Zaroff states that he will hunt Rainsford. The hunt is full of suspense. Rainsford panics at its outset. He enters the forest, running one way and then another. Rainford's urgent movements and fearful thoughts contribute to the suspenseful mood. When night falls, Rainsford hides. The question of whether or not the general will be able to find Rainsford fills the reader with suspense.
An apprehensive night crawled slowly by like a wounded snake and sleep did not visit Rainsford, although the silence of a dead world was on the jungle. Toward morning when a dingy gray was varnishing the sky, the cry of some startled bird focused Rainsford's attention in that direction. Something was coming through the bush, coming slowly, carefully, coming by the same winding way Rainsford had come. He flattened himself down on the limb and, through a screen of leaves almost as thick as tapestry, he watched. . . . That which was approaching was a man.
For two more days, the constant sense of the hunter approaching, and the terror of the prey, keep tension at a high point. Suspense mounts until the hunt ends and the story closes.