Rainsford is definitely a dynamic character. What does he learn from his experience at Ship Trap Island?

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of the story, Rainsford is clearly in support of hunting and Whitney's comments about its savage nature do not sway him at all.

Great sport, hunting."

"The best sport in the world," agreed Rainsford.

"For the hunter," amended Whitney. "Not for the jaguar."

"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.

Rainsford unfortunately falls from the yacht into the ocean but fortunately finds his way to general Zaroffs chateau. The General informs him about the new prey that he has found, which has revived his interest in hunting, since he had become bored. Rainsford is shocked to learn that the General has ruthlessly been holding humans captive on the island and has used them to indulge his pleasure. The general tries to convince him that there was nothing wrong in hunting humans and calls Rainsford righteous to believe otherwise. Rainsford is steadfast in his condemnation and feels that the General is a murderer.

Surely your experiences in the war--"
"Did not make me condone cold-blooded murder," finished Rainsford stiffly.

When the general requests that he join him in a hunt, Rainsford responds:

"Thank you, I'm a hunter, not a murderer."

Rrainsford later becomes the General's prey after he had been given a knife and clothes by Ivan. his servant. Rainsford manages to outwit the General by setting a trap and killing Ivan. He escapes and returns to the chateau, where he later confronts General Zaroff.

Becoming a victim himself, Rainsford learns what a terrifying ordeal it is for the hunted, to be stalked and sought out. He now clearly realises that the sentiments he espoused when speaking to Whitney do not really hold true, for he has now found himself in that position - he experiences the fear of pain and the fear of death. 

Secondly, Rainsford learns that nature is not his ally, but his friend. When he fell into the water and later emerged unscathed, this was his sentiment:

All he knew was that he was safe from his
enemy, the sea, and that utter weariness was on him.

In his escape from the general, he dived into the sea to get to the chateau faster than the General did. He also realises that his greatest enemy is, in fact, a fellow human, who is ruthless and guiltless.

Rainsford also accepts later that he is probably not much different rom the General himself, for he kills him, probably in a duel. One may argue that it was in self-defence, but his words to the General when he confronts him, suggest otherwise:

Rainsford did not smile. "I am still a beast at bay," he said, in a low, hoarse voice. "Get ready, General Zaroff."

Rainsford has accepted his own savage instinct: he is remorseless and cruel. This is further supported by the following line after he had probably killed General Zaroff and took rest:

He had never slept in a better bed, Rainsford decided.

There is not even a glimmer of guilt for having killed two men, even though, it may be said, he acted in self-defence.

Read the study guide:
The Most Dangerous Game

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