In the short story "The Most Dangerous Game," the ethical nature of hunting is introduced to the reader. In the beginning of the story, Rainsford is discussing hunting animals and big game hunting with Whitney aboard the yacht. After Rainsford asserts that hunting is the greatest sport in the world, Whitney states that it is indeed for the hunter, but not the jaguar, which is the topic of conversation. Rainsford could not care less whether the jaguar feels fear or anything else during the hunt. Of course, this is foreshadowing and irony, because Rainsford will soon find himself in the unfortunate company of General Zaroff.
As Rainsford discovers, General Zaroff also agrees that the hunt of big game is the greatest sport in the world, yet Zaroff has a completely different prey in mind as he says this. Still, Rainsford asserts that the animal feels no fear or pain as a result of being hunted. This is significant because Rainsford suddenly becomes the hunted. Zaroff feeds off hunting men, as they are able to reason, feel fear, pain, and are able to use their cunning in an effort to challenge the hunter. As the tables are turned on Rainsford, he must reconsider the morality of hunting animals. After all, he is now being treated as the animal in the hunt by General Zaroff. This whole experience provides Rainsford with a different perspective about hunting in general. He begins to contemplate his outlook on animal hunting, as he feels so much desperation and fear as the actual prey.
The question of whether there is a difference between hunting animals and humans, is answered through both the philosophical discussions between Whitney and Rainsford, and then between Rainsford and Zaroff, as well as through the actual human hunt that Rainsford experiences. The ultimate question of whether hunting animals is moral becomes more of a challenge for Rainsford to ponder as he becomes the hunted.
It is also critical to remember the ending of the story when Rainsford finally defeats General Zaroff in the hunt, thereby having no choice but to kill him in his own bed. The reader is left with the burning question of whether or not Rainsford really learns anything or not, because it sounds as if he takes over the role of Zaroff after he kills him. After all, Rainsford is now the new master of the island. Does he intend to leave or to stay? What are the implications of this cliff hanger of an ending?