What are the similarities between General Zaroff and Sanger Rainsford in "The Most Dangerous Game"?

The main similarity between General Zaroff and Sanger Rainsford in The Most Dangerous Game is that they are both passionate about hunting. The difference, however, is that Zaroff likes to hunt human as well as animal prey. In due course, Rainsford becomes an expert hunter of humans himself as he takes on and finally defeats Zaroff in a life-and-death struggle.

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General Zaroff and Sanger Rainsford are both expert hunters. They're not just good at hunting; they actually enjoy it. For these men, there are few things more wonderful in life than bringing down some majestic beast with a fusillade of buckshot.

For hunters such as Zaroff and Rainsford, this is a very simple, black and white world; it is a world in which there are hunters and the hunted and where hunters appropriate an almost god-like power to determine whether certain creatures live or die. oth Zaroff and Rainsford very much enjoy the privilege of being in the category of hunter.

As expert hunters, they share a heightened awareness of the natural world, with all its dangers and pitfalls. Their numerous experiences of the hunt have given them a certain resourcefulness in dealing with such dangers, which in turn has developed their survival skills to a considerable extent.

Initially, it is only Zaroff who enjoys the hunting of human quarry; the very idea repels Rainsford at first. However, after Rainsford outwits his pursuer during an epic life-and-death contest on Ship-Trap Island, he too starts to understand how Zaroff must've felt all these years after killing human prey. Now that Rainsford knows what it's like to be both hunter and hunted, he feels ever more keenly the privilege of being the former.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on November 10, 2020
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At the start of the short story, Whitney and Rainsford discuss the feelings of the jaguar being hunted, and Rainsford points out that "[t]he world is made up of two classes—the hunters and the huntees." The defining characteristic that Zaroff and Rainsford share is that of being in the same class: the hunters.

After Rainsford falls overboard, he swims towards the sound of gunshots and screams of pain and fear. When Rainsford wakes up on the island, he encounters the patch of underbrush where the screaming creature must have died. He uses the same skills of observation honed by his hunting experience to come to this conclusion, the same skills that Zaroff, another experienced hunter, must have used to pursue and kill his prey.

When Zaroff and Rainsford meet, after Rainsford has confronted Ivan at the door of Zaroff's mansion, Zaroff starts his hunt with clever and witty intimidation tactics. These tactics are typical results of a hunter's "analytical mind," which Rainsford also possesses, as a hunter. Zaroff claims prior knowledge of Rainsford and admits to Rainsford that he is like Ivan, a "savage," in an attempt to disorient Rainsford and place him in a position of weakness. The appraising looks from Zaroff that bother Rainsford during dinner are also tactical, to put Rainsford on the defensive.

When Zaroff concedes that Rainsford has won the game at the end of the story, Rainsford insists that the hunt continue and that the two hunters fight to the death: "Get ready, General Zaroff." Rainsford's hunting instincts lead him to mistrust Zaroff, and he kills Zaroff knowing that that is the only way he will live. To the end, neither hunter can turn off their hunting skills, perhaps the mark of a true and lifelong hunter.

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While not apparent at first, there are many similarities to the basic natures of Sanger Rainsford and General Zaroff. Among the salient qualities that are similar, there are the following:

  • Both are expert hunters. They are knowledgeable of weapons, traps, and techniques in hunting.
  • Both enjoy being hunters, not the ones hunted. Zaroff says, "My whole life has been one prolonged hunt." Rainsford expresses to Whitney that he and Whitney are "luckily...hunters." He is not concerned about the feelings of his prey.
  • Both are men of courage and cunning. Because of his courage and cunning, Zaroff has chosen to hunt "the most dangerous game" because hunting "had ceased to be what you call 'a sporting proposition. It had become too easy."
  • Both are survivalists. Rainsford knows how to hide, set traps, and outthink his enemy. For instance, Rainsford dives into the sea, but returns to the chateau where he duels Zaroff and kills him.
  • Both are predatory. Zaroff has no qualms against killing men, and Rainsford is exigent and will shoot anyone or anything in his way to safety as long as his life is in danger. In the end, Rainsford kills Zaroff, refuting the protests his gives to Zaroff about hunting the most dangerous game at his first dinner.

   "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. Do you think we've passed that island yet?"
   "I can't tell in the dark. I hope so."

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