Several possible meanings can be (and have been) suggested for Richard Edward Connell’s short story “The Most Dangerous Game.” The story describes how two big-game hunters meet when the first (Sanger Rainsford), after having fallen off a yacht, washes up on a remote island owned by the second (General Zaroff). The latter has become bored with hunting animals and thus instead hunts humans who, after mishaps at sea, manage to make it to his island. Zaroff decides that Rainsford will be the next object of such a hunt. After Zaroff gives Rainsford some rudimentary weapons and a head start, the hunt begins. Ultimately, Rainsford manages not only to survive but to prove victorious in his conflict with Zaroff, Zaroff’s assistant, and Zaroff’s dogs. At the end of the story, Rainsford seems to have succeeded in killing Zaroff in the latter’s own home. Among some suggested meanings of the story are the following:
- Zaroff’s sense of his own strength is his greatest weakness, according to an article on the story in Don D’Amasso’s Encyclopedia of Adventure Fiction (New York: Facts on File, 2009), p. 153.
- According to the same article, Rainsford’s final victory may (or may not) suggest that “civilization has triumphed over barbarism” (p. 153).
- According to the same article, Rainsford is “forced to act as would any cornered prey” (p. 153).
- According to the same article, the story is appealing first and foremost as a straightforward adventure story (p. 153).
- According to the same article,
Zaroff is the iron fist in a velvet glove, a savage hunter who wears the veneer of civilization as a convenience, only truly coming to life when he is able to cast it aside and indulge in his favorite occupation, the hunt and the kill.” (p. 153)
- According to Alice Trupe’s Thematic Guide to Young Adult Literature, the story is one of the best-known examples of the theme of “survival” (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2006), p. 217.
- According to Nancy Kress’s book Beginnings, Middles, and Ends (Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 1999), the story is clearly structured in terms of all three components suggested by Kress’s title and thus shows the skill of Connell’s design (p. 61).
- According to an article by Gary Westfahl in The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders, ed. Gary Westfahl, 3 vols. (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2005), the story exemplifies the theme of role-reversal (vol. 2, p. 681).
- According to an article in The A-Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, by Harold Schechter and David Everitt, 2nd edition (New York: Pocket Books, 2006), the story depicts “the hunting instinct gone mad” (p. 240).
- For further suggested meanings, see the links below.