If there is such a thing as karma in the world of fiction, Rainsford definitely begins to experience it as he comes to understand what it means to be the hunted instead of the hunter. When Rainsford falls off his yacht and has to swim to Ship Trap Island, he engages in a deadly game with General Zaroff, the owner of the island. Zaroff, too, is a hunter, and he wants the ultimate prize, a human kill. Throughout the story, Rainsford and Zaroff square off in a “survival of the fittest” death match to see who is the most powerful. The two men engage in a cat and mouse game, and Rainsford symbolically becomes an animal who has to use all of his instincts to survive. At the end of the story, Rainsford confronts Zaroff in his bedroom. The hunted, Rainsford, has now cornered the hunter, Zaroff. They have a sword duel, and Rainsford kills Zaroff and sleeps in Zaroff’s bed that night.
I’m not so sure Rainsford learns or changes much by the end of the story. There isn’t any epiphany at the end where Rainsford vows he will never hunt again. The ending is ambiguous in its meaning. Does Rainsford enjoy killing Zaroff and now have killing humans “in his blood”? Or, does he learn a lesson about killing innocent animals because he finally understands what it feels like to be tracked and hunted? It’s up to the reader to decide because the author, Richard Connell, really leaves it up in the air for the reader to analyze. Perhaps Rainsford’s karma is yet to be realized.