silhouette of a man with one eye open hiding in the jungle

The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Edward Connell
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How do elements in "The Most Dangerous Game" make it a commercial fiction story?

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Originally published in Collier's in 1924, Richard Connell's short story "The Most Dangerous Game" achieved both commercial and literary success. It spawned a number of radio and motion picture adaptations as well as being widely anthologized in high school and college literature textbooks. Although now it is certainly considered a great literary achievement, it also has several elements that originally made it highly commercial. Popular author and writing instructor William Bernhardt has qualified those factors which make a story a commercial success.

First, it must have "readability," and "The Most Dangerous Game" is certainly a page turner. Connell grips his reader from the opening reference to the mysterious "Ship-Trap Island" through the nerve wracking hunt between Zaroff and Rainsford. Second, there must be "strangeness" to the story. This element is revealed early on in when Rainsford happens upon the strange chateau in the middle of a deserted island. The appearance of the deaf and mute Ivan at the door of the chateau adds to this "strangeness." Third, the story should provide controversy. In Connell's work the controversy surrounds the ethicality of big game hunting. The character Whitney introduces the controversy early in the story by suggesting that animals experience fear and pain.

Fourth is what Bernhardt calls "big actions with big consequences." By calling Zaroff a cold blooded killer and refusing to hunt with him, Rainsford's actions lay the ground work for the coming hunt and suspenseful action which dominates the second half of the story. Fifth, the story must have, what Bernhardt labels a "nuanced uniqueness." By this, he means the story must be well within a particular genre of stories, yet it should be slightly different. "The Most Dangerous Game" qualifies because, while it is an adventure story set in an exotic locale like so many other adventure stories, the element of man hunting man makes it different from other stories in the same category.

Sixth, the story must have "extreme situations." What could be more extreme than a man hiding in a jungle attempting to save himself from a maniacal sociopath? Rainsford himself creates these extreme situations when he lays various traps for Zaroff such as the "Malay man-catcher" and the "Burmese tiger pit." Finally, the author must give the reader a reason to care about the story. While this is certainly a subjective category it seems likely that most readers are reasonably interested in the well being of Rainsford, especially after his harrowing swim after falling from the yacht. Because of the black and white nature of the hunt, the reader is most certainly rooting for Rainsford to escape the diabolical General Zaroff.

 

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