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The chateau, the hunter’s knife, and the jaguar all symbolize aspects of survival.
A symbol is an object or person that represents a bigger idea.
The conversation about the jaguar at the beginning of the story foreshadows the theme of survival. Whitney and Rainsford discuss hunting, and Rainsford has no sympathy for the jaguar. To him, it is just an animal.
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.
The jaguar comes up again, when Zaroff discusses how it was supposed to be a worthy opponent. It was not. Symbolically, Rainsford is now in the place of the jaguar. Before, he did not care how the jaguar felt. Then he was the jaguar.
For General Zaroff, the chateau is more than a house. It symbolizes that he has survived, and been successful. It demonstrates his cunning, his arrogance, and his prosperity. If he had not been able to do everything he had done, he would not be living in a palace on his own island.
The chateau also epitomizes Zaroff’s dominance over the elements. He is on a tiny island far from any civilization, and he prides himself on the standard of living he is able to maintain so far from the mainland.
"Oh, yes," he said, casually, as if in answer to a question, "I have electricity. We try to be civilized here."
Rainsford does not interpret the chateau as civilized, because he considers Zaroff barbaric. Yet even he admires Zaroff’s fine food, exclusive tailor, and cavernous home.
The hunter’s knife is also a symbol of survival. It is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, because it is all Rainsford gets. Zaroff gets to go back to his palace each time and sleep in comfort, but Rainsford has to keep his wits about him and fight for his life.
Then a businesslike air animated him. "Ivan," he said to Rainsford, "will supply you with hunting clothes, food, a knife. I suggest you wear moccasins; they leave a poorer trail.
Zaroff considers the knife as a sign that Rainsford and he are on equal terms, but of course they are not. Rainsford does use the knife, and in the end he makes it back to Zaroff’s house. He changes the rules of the game, but Zaroff is thrilled. He has turned Rainsford into a “beast at bay” and proved his point—that all men are animals.
All of these elements symbolize survival: the jaguar, the chateau, and the hunter's knife. They are woven deftly into the story to bring home the themes of survival of the fittest and the value of human life.
In Richard Connell's "Most Dangerous Game," the large house is described as a "palatial chateau" that is set on a hill and has pointed towers "plunging upward into the gloom." Other descriptions of the house include a gargoyle knocker and spikes on the gates. These images portray a Gothic style of mystery as well as a sense for the tone or mood of the setting and story. A large house also suggests power, greatness, success, and wealth. The hunter's knife is a tool, but it also can describe the hunter's character. Hunter's aren't chefs, for example, they are those who need strong knives to undertake the gutting of an animal; so, anyone possessing such a knife does so with particular attention to its function. It is also a symbol of violence. The jaguar can be compared to Zaroff because a large cat is handsome, cunning, and dangerous. Wild cats tend to take great care when stalking prey, but attack with precision and strength.
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