How does the writer give suspense in developing the plot of "The Most Dangerous Game"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Suspense is generated in "The Most Dangerous Game" with skillfully crafted foreshadowing, atmosphere, characterization, incomplete actions, and sensory details.

In the exposition of this story, there is considerable foreshadowing as the main character converses with his friend Whitney. He tells Whitney that there are only two classes of men: "the hunters and the huntees." He adds that he feels no sympathy for anyone or anything that is hunted. Shortly after this, the friends peer into the dark, and Whitney remarks,

Off there to the right—somewhere—is a large island. . . It's rather a mystery—

Further, Whitney mentions that the crew on their ship seem "a bit jumpy," causing him to feel "a mental chill; a sort of sudden dread." Such words create a tension in the narrative.

Suspense is certainly created when Rainsford falls from the ship as he lunges for his pipe. Sensory details are used as Rainsford is dangerously distanced from the ship despite his efforts in the dark water. The lights of the yacht grow faint and are "blotted out entirely by the night." Struggling to find a safe place, Rainsford swims for an "endless time." He does not know how long he can continue. Then, he hears "a high screaming sound. . . an animal in an extremity of anguish and terror" and, after this sound, there are pistol shots. Rainsford swims toward the sounds and reaches a rocky shore where he finds a flat place on which to lie.

Rainsford does not awaken until the following afternoon. The atmosphere certainly generates suspense as Rainsford wonders what kind of men are in such a "forbidding" place. He follows the path of a hunt, but night begins to blacken out the sea and jungle. After a while, he sees a lighted chateau that stands strangely alone on a high bluff of the island. The huge Cossack who opens the door has "a menacing look in his eyes" that does not change as Rainsford explains how he arrived on the island. Once inside, Rainsford meets General Zaroff, who has a "bizarre quality about [his] face."

At dinner, Zaroff relates his background and tells Rainsford that he now hunts "more dangerous game" than that which he used to kill. Further, his host informs his guest, "You'll find this game worth playing." When Rainsford objects, Zaroff suggests that Rainsford has no choice.

Once the "most dangerous game" begins, there is much suspense as Rainsford finds himself the prey of the sadistic Zaroff. He calls upon all his hunting skills to escape the general and his man, Ivan. As Rainsford hides in a tree the first day, holding his breath and believing that "only the devil himself could follow that complicated trail," he is shocked when the general appears and looks up. Strangely, Zaroff smiles. Terrorized, Rainsford realizes that the general "was saving him for another day's sport!" As he experiences "cold horror," Rainsford tries to last two more days since the agreement is that he can go free if he is still alive after three days. Suspense builds with both the external and internal conflicts.

Near the end of the story, Rainsford, who now "knew how an animal at bay feels," is forced to take a desperate chance as he "leaped far out into the sea." However, to create more suspense, the author suddenly leaves Rainsford at this point and begins to tell the narrative through Zaroff's eyes. As a result, the reader is unsure of what happens after Rainsford's daring leap. This suspense is redirected when Rainsford surprisingly appears in Zaroff's room, and they engage in a deadly duel at the end of the story. 

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The Most Dangerous Game

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