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The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Edward Connell

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Is there a political message in the story "A Most Dangerous Game"?

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There could certainly be said to be a question of ethics in Richard Connell’s short story “The Most Dangerous Game.” Whether there is a political message there is another matter. Because of the occasional intersection between ethics and politics, however, we can proceed with the understanding that a political subtext exists in Connell’s story of a hunter who becomes the hunted and, in so doing, comes to understand the emotional and ethical quandaries inherent in hunting for sport as opposed to hunting for survival.

“The Most Dangerous Game” revolves around the characters of Sanger Rainsford and General Zaroff, big game hunters with a similar moral outlook regarding animals. It is the latter figure, General Zaroff, however, who has taken the game a step further. Bored with stalking and killing animals that are ill-equipped to counter his relentless efforts at facilitating their deaths, the autocratic figure has taken instead to hunting humans. Rainsford’s inadvertent refuge on Zaroff’s island, a parcel of land with a reputation for evil among sailors and crews, precipitates his transformation from heartless hunter to frightened victim. The “early” Rainsford’s perspective is captured in the following exchange between him and his friend Whitney during which the latter attributes certain qualities among animals that are summarily rejected by the former:

"Even so, I rather think they [hunted animals] understand one thing—fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death."

"Nonsense," laughed Rainsford. "This hot weather is making you soft, Whitney. Be a realist. The world is made up of two classes—the hunters and the huntees. Luckily, you and I are hunters.”

Rainsford’s confrontation with General Zaroff places him, the big game hunter, in the role of hunted animal and, in so doing, forces him to experience the emotional sensations that he denied other forms of life.

So, is “The Most Dangerous Game” political? Yes, it could be considered political. Depending to a degree on one’s perspective of hunting and of consuming animals, Connell’s story is political in the sense of acknowledging the inhumanity inherent in hunting for sport, if not just for food. As noted earlier, there exists a nexus between politics and ethics and, for those who oppose hunting for any purpose, ideological inclinations dictate ethical and political considerations. For those who support hunting for food but not for sport (and most hunters view hunting as a sport that provides sustenance), Connell’s story is also political. Lines between right and wrong are drawn and that is a political exercise.

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