What is the message of "The Most Dangerous Game"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Connell's short story "The Most Dangerous Game" raises certain questions about the essence of man. For instance, how successful has civilization been in curbing the predatory instincts in men? Certainly, for all his repulsion of Zaroff, Rainsford is no better than he at the end when he returns to kill Zaroff in his bedroom. Since he has escaped death for two days, he needs but one more day and Zaroff would hold to his rule: "If my quarry eludes me for three whole days, he wins the game" and he is returned to freedom. But, to Rainsford, trying to elude Zaroff for another day, leaves him as the "beast at bay"; apparently, he would rather risk his life as a predator and duel Zaroff, hoping to kill him. And, yet, some could argue that by killing Zaroff, Rainsford is preventing the general from having others with whom to play his "dangerous game." Such an act of "prevention" for more evil, then, raises another question: Are there but "the hunters and the huntees"? Or are they similar? Connell's story challenges the understanding of what constitutes civilization, to be sure.

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andrewnightingale's profile pic

andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The story focuses on aspects of morality, specifically that which deals with man's so-called superiority over animals and also,to a lesser extent, man's desire for revenge.

Zaroff is a beast, a brutal murderer who takes pleasure in hunting and killing others for sport. Since he has become bored in hunting animals, he finds human prey more challenging because humans have an intellect and have the ability to reason.

Irrespective of the fact that he gives his prey a head start, Zaroff is, ironically, no better than the beasts he had taken so much pleasure in hunting. He is brutal and ruthless, devoid of compassion, just as much as an animal killing its prey is. As such, being an animal himself, he cannot take the moral 'high ground'. He has, essentialy, lost his humanity.

But does this mean that he should then also be treated in a less humane manner? Have his actions justified Rainsford's act of vengeance? Is Rainsford now Zaroff's moral superior and therefore justified in killing him?

The answer is no. The best that Rainsford should have done was to arrest Zaroff and allow the law to take its course. He assumed the position of judge, jury and executioner - in much the same way as Zaroff did when he hunted his prey, both animal and human.

We cannot justify our own lack of compassion and our brutality because of the misdeeds of others, because then we are just as morally corrupt as they are.

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