In "The Most Dangerous Game", how is the ending ambiguous?The Ending-- Rainsford: I'm still a beast at bay....get ready for me General ZaroffGeneral Zaroff: Splendid! one of us is to...

In "The Most Dangerous Game", how is the ending ambiguous?

The Ending-- Rainsford: I'm still a beast at bay....get ready for me General Zaroff

General Zaroff: Splendid! one of us is to furnish a repast for the hounds. The other will sleep in this very excellent bed. On guard, Rainsford...."

[Rainsford] had never slept in a betted bed

 I know this is ambiguous because I think Rainsford changes since he sleeps in General Zaroff's bed but I'm a bit puzzled.....please help? I have a very big class discussion about it.

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As the main characters in fiction are mostly dynamic characters, the reader expects some type of change in Rainford.  So, your supposition is correct. 

When Zaroff and Rainsford dine the first night after his capture, the general describes the type of hunting in which he engages and seeks the approval of Rainsford as he says, "Surely your experiences in the war--"  Horrified, Rainsford stiffly finishes the general's sentence: "DId not make me condone cold-blooded murder..."  Later, as he is hunted by Zaroff, Rainsford experiences the "fear of pain and the fear of death" of the animal at bay, a condition he scoffed at when talking with Whitney on the ship before his accident.  While hiding in the tree he sees Zaroff leave: "Rainsford's second thought was even more terrible." He knows the fear of the animal at bay. 

As the general finishes his after-dinner liqueur, he reflects that Rainsford "hadn't played the game." As Zaroff retires for the night, Rainsford comes from behind the curtains and tells Zaroff, "I am still a beast at bay...Get ready, General Zaroff."  Rainsford means for the general to prepare himself to fight as he is ready to kill a man.   

After killing Zaroff, Rainsford has "won the game" as the general has told him and will "sleep in this very excellent bed."  Since Rainsford sleeps in the bed and enjoys it, he is, therefore, no longer the hunted. He has done what once horrified him.  He is changed, for he has killed a man.  There is little ambiguity here except that the author does not directly state that R. kills Zaroff.

ladyvols1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ambiguous means that somthing is open to or has several possible meanings or interpretations.  The end of this story is ambiguous because the author does not really tell us the Rainford kills Zaroff.  Zaroff finds Rainsford back at the house.  Zaroff states that one of them will be food for the dogs, meaning that one will be dead, and one will be sleeping in an "excellent bed."  The story ends with Rainsford in the bed so we can assume that Zaroff is dead. The author does not state this specifically, but leaves the ending in an ambiguous manner.

"In contrast, Connell takes a different approach at the end of the story. Having stretched out intense moments throughout the story, including the involved description of General Zaroff's return, Connell quickly describes the final confrontation. He grants it only a few paragraphs of sparse dialogue before ending the scene abruptly with "He had never slept in a better bed." By describing none of the final battle, Connell stretches the suspense as far as he can. He waits until the last two words of the story to reveal the survivor with: "Rainsford decided."

decline | Student

I see two possible interpretations of the ending:

1. Rainsford kills Zaroff and sleeps in his bed.  I think this is the most direct interpretation and is probably what most readers conclude as it is the "happy ending" if you are comfortable with calling it that (the protaganist wins).

2. The final fight takes place outside the timeframe of the short story, meaning the story simply ends with Rainsford thinking to himself in the instant before the fight begins that he had never slept in a better bed.

I don't think the scenario involving Rainsford thinking the bed is nice while on his "death bed"  mentioned by another poster is very likely.  In any realistic hand-to-hand fight to the death, there is no time for last thoughts on a death bed as the death is relatively swift.

Considering that both men have military experience and are both capable of combat, it is difficult to predict based on the facts we know who would win the fight.  Zaroff is significantly older than Rainsford, which would put him at a disadvantage, but he is well rested and Rainsford is obviously exhausted.

Me personally, I like the second ending where the reader gets to imagine the final showdown for himself.  We are taught from an early age that all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Perhaps what makes this short story so great is that it doesn't truly have an end.


To the original poster, I apologize for answering your question 14 months too late.


l3arn3r | Student


From me/school:

- Rainsford kills Zaroff and sleeps on his bed.

- Zaroff kills Rainsford, hence Rainsford is sleeping in his death bed

From tuition teacher:

Sleeping in Z's bed may mean R is becoming more like Z.

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The Most Dangerous Game

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