Is Zaroff civilized in the story "The Most Dangerous Game"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

He certainly thinks he is, but his idea of what constitutes being civilized is radically different from most people's. Wealthy, educated, highly intelligent, and conversant in several languages, Zaroff gives the impression of refinement and urbane sophistication. On the surface, most people would acknowledge that he fulfills the standard criteria of what it means to be civilized. In actual fact, however, his worldly veneer hides a sadistic, blood-thirsty savage who gets his kicks by hunting human quarry. And most people, one hopes, would not regard such an appalling hobby as being in the least bit civilized.

This seemingly straightforward picture, however, is somewhat complicated by the fact that there were many General Zaroffs working at any given time in the far-flung corners of the various Western colonial empires. They, too, were widely regarded as men of culture and sophistication, flag-bearers of a great and glorious civilization. Yet as part of their work, they also inflicted the most appalling cruelty and exploitation upon indigenous people. They may not have indulged in Zaroff's strange and uniquely barbaric hobby, but in their conduct as colonial functionaries, they routinely demonstrated that the line between barbarism and civilization is a remarkably fine one, indeed.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In order to answer this question well, we need to define what it means to be civilized. If we define being civilized as enjoying and discerning the "finer" things in life, then Zaroff is undoubtedly civilized. If we define being civilized as being humane, then Zaroff is far from civilized. 

As the story unfolds, we gain knowledge about Zaroff. For example, we learn that he can read English, French, and Russian. Therefore, he is a polyglot, a sign of being civilized. We also learn that he has a refined palate, as he serves Rainsford a delicious meal. Finally, the way he presents himself is also impeccable, a true man of the world. Rainsford even admits this.

They were eating borsch, the rich, red soup with whipped cream so dear to Russian palates. Half apologetically General Zaroff said, "We do our best to preserve the amenities of civilization here. Please forgive any lapses. We are well off the beaten track, you know. Do you think the champagne has suffered from its long ocean trip?"

"Not in the least," declared Rainsford. He was finding the general a most thoughtful and affable host, a true cosmopolite.

From this perspective, we can say that the general was civilized and cultured. However, if we look at what he has created, we can say that he is a monster of a man whose sense of adventure is perverse. That he would hunt people shows that he is not civilized at all. 

In conclusion, I would say that Zaroff is not civilized. He is a menace to society and should be in prison. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial