As a ninth grade teacher, my answer is simple: 9th grade students are the best suited for this story.
I say this with the justification that it is extremely hard to find appropriate material for 9th grade students. They have just finished middle school and are beginning to mature but still have many of the "middle school mentalities" ingrained in them. In my classroom, this story provides the perfect transition piece. It is not too long (it can be read in two class periods) and it requires students to delve deep into character motivation and question their morals.
I think that these topics might be considered by the middle school but the advanced language and references in the story would be above their level. I agree that it takes a lot for even my 9th grade Honors students to fully understand this story beyond the literal level.
The main reason this story is not appropriate for middle school is that the content--a man who hunts and kills other humans for fun--is quite disturbing. Also, my students find themselves “cheering” for Rainsford’s killing Zaroff at the end, but then struggle with the fact that it is still murder and if they should or should not be happy that he “won” the game. That is another aspect of the story I don’t believe appropriate for middle school. Finally, the vocabulary used in the story is difficult. My students (freshmen) are constantly hitting words they are unfamiliar with and find they have to look them up to understand the story (example: understanding the word ‘repast’ at the end can make or break it for the reader).
The Most Dangerous Game is an action-packed story that includes the hunting of humans for sport. The story is full of violence and cruelty.
Additionally, the nuances of the levels of meaning would be lost on Middle Schoolers.
"Issues of violence and cruelty in "The Most Dangerous Game" exist not only on a literal level but on a symbolic level as well. As Connell directs the reader to sympathize with Rainsford, the reader feels what it is like to be a hunted animal. Zaroff shows off his animal heads and after describing his new prey, he refers to his "new collection of heads," which are supposedly human."
"This comparison of decapitated heads opens up parallels between the murder of humans and the murder of animals. If hunting humans for kicks is murder, Connell asks, then how does this differ from hunting animals?"
I wouldn't recommend this story for Middle Schoolers, the High School students that I teach just barely get it.
Some may feel that the content of the story would be inappropriate for middle school. Once it becomes apparent that General Zaroff intends to hunt Sanger, the subject matter of the story may be too mature for young readers. Depending on the age level, the language of the story may pose challenges for some readers, as well.
because it is about something that grade school kids do not need to know