What important philosophy is presented by Rainsford and Whitney in the beginning of "The Most Dangerous Game"?  Why is this significant?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Richard O'Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game," the philosophy presented is that animals (all kinds of animals) have feelings. When Whitney first presents the idea, Rainsford scoffs.

"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 about how a jaguar feels?"

"Perhaps the jaguar does," observed Whitney.

"Bah! They've no understanding."

"Even so, I think they understand one thing—fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death."

Rainsford, a very famous big-game hunter does not understand that an animal could feel fear or anything else. In his mind, an animals has no understanding of the more sophisticated feelings of human beings.

However, when Rainsford meets General Zaroff, and the other man tries to get him to participate in hunting human beings, Rainsford is appalled by General Zaroff's disturbing idea that less intelligent humans, or those of poor circumstances, are not the equal to other human beings, and are, therefore, disposable. It is not until Zaroff decides to hunt Rainsford that Rainsford himself understands the concept of the "fear of pain and the fear of death."

Very quickly, Rainsford is thrown into a situation where he must kill or be killed. Only from the very real threat of being killed by Zaroff can Rainsford understand the inherent desire in all creatures to live, as well as what an "animal" (of any kind) will do in order to preserve its (his) life.

It would have been interesting to learn if Rainsford ever chose to hunt again after this experience. Would he be better able to understand the common response of all creatures to violence and cruelty after leaving the island?

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In their discussion at the beginning of Richard Connell's short story, "The Most Dangerous Game," Rainsford and Whitney primarily discuss their favorite topic: hunting. They agree that hunting is the greatest sport in the world. However, Whitney points out that it is best

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

With this statement, Rainsford disagrees, claiming the jaguar has no feelings, "no understanding." Again, Whitney shows a soft spot for the animal.

     "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 will soon learn that the hunted do, indeed, fear both pain and death.

The two men also discuss the differences between superstition and fear of the unknown. Whitney reminds Rainsford about how "jumpy" the crew had been, knowing they were approaching the infamous Ship-Trap Island. Evil lurked about the area, Whitney told Rainsford, adding that he had a "mental chill--a sort of sudden dread" when they reached the area. Rainsford continued to dismiss the talk, blaming it on the superstitious nature of the sailors. But on this point, too, Rainsford would soon discover that the superstitions--and the evil and dread--were all tangible elements of Ship-Trap Island.

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The Most Dangerous Game

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