In "The Most Dangerous Game," what is the one thing that Whitney believes animals understand?
In "The Most Dangerous Game," the one thing that Whitney believes that animals understand is fear. His exchange with Rainsford occurs early in the story, as their boat is passing the mysterious island where most of the narrative is set:
“Don’t talk rot, Whitney,” said Rainsford. “You’re a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?”
“Perhaps the jaguar does,” observed Whitney.
“Bah! They’ve no understanding.”
“Even so, I rather think they 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....”
This exchange foreshadows one of the main themes of the story, reversal of fortune. Rainsford, who has been excessively proud and unreflective about being a "hunter," is about to become a "huntee" at the hands of General Zaroff. He will be reduced to the state of an animal being pursued, and will gain a better understanding of fear. Whether or not this experience changes him is uncertain -- he is not by nature a very reflective man. However, it may change readers, reminding them that for every triumphant hunter there is also a miserable victim.
check Approved by eNotes Editorial