In "The Most Dangerous Game," Zaroff divides the world into two classes. What are they? What does this say about the General's beliefs and values?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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"The Most Dangerous Game" was publshed in 1924 and is still  read and even assigned as reading in high school and college English classes. This is because the author Richard Connell (1893-1949) took pains to make his story believeable. His premise was that a man hunts human beings for sport on his private island. Verisimilitude is an essential factor in such a plot.

The General divides humanity into two classes. They are the strong and the weak. He is an exceptionally strong, daring, individualistic man himself, and he expresses contempt for inferioir men. The fact that he was a general before the Russian Revolution indicates that he was accustomed to killing people in large numbers, and this may explain why he says he is not satisfied with merely killing wild animals. He confides his beliefs and values to Sangor Rainsford during one of their gourmet meals.

"Life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong, and, if need be, taken by the strong. The weak of the world were put here to give the strong pleasure. I  am strong. Why should I not use my gift? If I wish to hunt, why should I not? I hunt the scum of the earth--lascars, blacks, Chinese, whites, mongrels--a thoroughbred horse or hound is worth more than a score of them."

There are not too many people who kill human beings for sport. There are, however, countless people who exploit others for their profit and pleasure. General Zaroff is just an extreme example of a type. No doubt this man is somewhat insane--a lunatic who happens to have the wealth to enable him to live out his fantasy of enjoying a life of luxury while enjoying the thrill of killing human beings. It seems as if it is a logical step up from killing tigers to killing humans. The thrill is just the same--at least for a man who has no moral compunctions.

General Zaroff might be described as a Social Darwinist--one who believes that the human race is improved by ruthless competition. The strong survive and prosper, while the weak are eliminated and cannot reproduce. Over the long run the human race benefits because succeeding generations become stronger and more intelligent. Zaroff's beliefs sound very much like those of Adolf Hitler, who was responsible for the slaughter of millions of men, women and children whom he considered inferior. Like Hitler, Zaroff is obviously a racist.

The introductory exposition of this story is very long because the author was concerned about verisimilitude. He wanted both his main characters to be credible. General Zaroff is a psychotic who does not discriminate between animals and humans as prey. Rainsford is a world-famous big-game hunter, but he has a moral sense which prevents him from even thinking of being a murderer. Then when Rainsford finds that he has himself become the prey, he learns a lesson about his sport of killing animals. He realizes that, though they may lck intelligence, they do have feelings, and killing animals purely for the thrill of doing it puts him in the same class as the homicidal General,  When the story ends, the reader is left with the feeling that Rainsford will abandon big-game huntiing and find some better way to occupy his time. (This was a theme of the excellent movie The Deer Hunter.)

Killing Zaroff was not immoral because a man is entitled ethically and by law to kill in self-defense. The story brings to mind Anton Chekhov's story "The Bet," in which the men are arguing about whether the state has a right to employ capital punishment.

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