How is Sanger Rainsford an example of an English gentleman adventurer?

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Sanger Rainsford, the main protagonist in Richard Connell’s short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” is an example of the quintessential Victorian era big game hunter, a category of humanity with its origins in 19th century British colonialism. The “sport” of big game hunting – the pursuit of large, often-exotic game not for the purpose of attaining food for survival but for entertainment and prestige – was a product of that era with the British conquest of territories in South and East Asia as well as in Africa.

In her 2015 study Hunting Africa: British Sport, African Knowledge and the Nature of Empire, Professor Angela Thompsell relates the history of big game hunting in Africa during the latter-half of the 19th century, when English gentlemen exploited the British Empire’s conquests for their own amusement and out of an interest in confronting the challenge of stalking and killing in often-hostile and uncharted territories. As Thompsell writes in this regard:

“Hunting narratives . . . fed contemporary desires for stories of exotic adventures, manly enterprise and colonial conquest, but they could so because the depletion of game along Africa’s coastlines meant that hunting necessarily took place on and, indeed, beyond the colonial frontier where imperial power was in the making and the tentacles of civilization, as the British understood it, did not constrain the actions of white gentlemen.”

So, how does Connell’s protagonist fit into this? Simply put, Sanger Rainsford is the embodiment of the proper English gentleman/big game hunter and adventurer. In the story’s opening dialogue between Rainsford and his friend and partner Whitney, as the two sail down the coast of South America, the topic of discussion is, unsurprisingly, big game hunting, which both men agree is the “best sport in the world,” as Rainsford describes it. Rainsford is a proper English gentleman whose passion for big game hunting has led him to the site where he will finally be confronted with his own mortality and, more importantly, with the sensation of being the one stalked by a skilled, remorseless hunter such as himself. His earlier scornful rejection of Whitney’s expression of empathy for the targets of their adventures has been thrust into his face as General Zaroff turns the hunter into the prey for his own warped sense of self-gratification. All that aside, Rainsford is an example of the English gentleman adventurer. He is English, is of the Victorian era in which this phenomenon was created and defined, and he is an adventurer.

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Sanger Rainsford's adventurous nature is revealed at the beginning of the short story in his conversation with Whitney. He is on his way to "Rio" to enjoy a "few days" of "some good hunting" in the Amazon. His love of hunting takes him to faraway and exotic locales - South America is far from his native New York City. He could claim to be a gentleman on account of his motives for hunting: he hunts not out of necessity for sustenance but for entertainment. Indeed, Sanger claims that hunting is "the best sport in the world." The author Richard Connell develops this characterization of Rainsford as a gentleman when he writes, "Rainsford, reclining in a steamer chair, indolently puffed on his favorite brier." Connell creates a portrait of a man who has the money to indulge in life's pleasures and is supremely confident in his abilities and education. As General Zaroff notes, Rainsford displayed more sophistication than most of the other men who came to Ship Trap Island. His impressive knowledge of the obscure Malay mancatcher demonstrates this quality.

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In the 1920s it was not the United States of America that was the most important country in the world but Great Britain. The British Empire extended all around the world and included huge areas of land such as Canada, Australia, India, and almost half of the African continent, including Egypt. They controlled huge parts of Asia and the Middle East as well as countless islands all around the world, and the British Navy bragged that Britannia ruled the waves, which it did. They were the world superpower until World War II nearly bankrupted Britain and brought the USSR and the USA into the ascendancy. The most popular type of hero in escapist fiction such as "The Most Dangerous Game" was not American but English. Sherlock Holmes was a prototype. Probably the most typical English hero was Bulldog Drummond, who was often described as a "gentleman adventurer" and a "soldier of fortune." Those were the things many men fantasized about being: "gentlemen adventurers" and "soldiers of fortune." The English hero had the whole world to roam in because so much of it was part of the British Empire. A latter-day version of the English gentleman adventurer is the very popular James Bond, who is intelligent, handsome, well-educated, impeccably dressed, sophisticated, at ease in any social situation, chivalrous, totally fearless, always neat, well-tailored, and correctly dressed for whatever occasion. Bond is gainfully employed as a secret agent, but he is working independently almost one hundred percent of the time, so he qualifies as a "soldier of fortune." Many men in America and Europe admired the British because for such a small country they had built a vast empire largely through the activities of upper-class, resourceful men such as those idealized in stereotypical characters like Bulldog Drummond and James Bond. Robert Wilson, the English big-game hunter in Ernest Hemingway's story "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," is another example of the cool, intrepid English hero. Another, of course, is Lawrence of Arabia. Daniel Dravot aspires to be part of that tradition in Rudyard Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King."

Sanger Rainsford's nationality is not specified in "The Most Dangerous Game," but he is the stereotypical English gentleman adventurer. He even smokes a pipe, which was a sort of trademark of English gentlemen adventurers and soldiers of fortune. Or at least he did until he let it fall overboard. His chief characteristic is that he is always cool under pressure. Nothing fazes him. He is totally at ease when he meets the maniacal General Zaroff, and he keeps telling himself not to lose his nerve when he is being hunted. That is what is most important to the English hero—to keep a stiff upper lip, to remain cool. And that was what was most admired by other men. Sanger Rainsford is at a huge disadvantage on Zaroff's island, but he proves himself to be calm, cool, courageous, and resourceful, in the best tradition of the English hero. He also has upper-class tastes. He enjoys sleeping in Zaroff's luxurious bed, perhaps after treating himself to a drink and then a long hot bath.

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