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The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Edward Connell

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What is the difference between Zaroff's perspective and Rainsford's perspective on the hunt in "The Most Dangerous Game"? How does this tension contribute to the moral stakes of the story?

The difference between Zaroff's perspective and Rainsford's perspective on the hunt is that even though they both feel that hunting animals is permissible, Rainsford feels that hunting humans is wrong. Zaroff thinks that hunting animals is too easy, because they can't reason, which is the exact reason Rainsford feels that hunting animals is acceptable. This tension contributes to the moral stakes of the story by creating an opposing viewpoint that Rainsford will have to ironically forgo if he wishes to survive.

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While both Zaroff and Rainsford believe that hunting is morally permissible based on the concept of "survival of the fittest," Rainsford thinks that hunting humans is morally and ethically wrong.

At first glance, Zaroff and Rainsford have similar philosophies about hunting. They both believe it's okay to hunt animals, because animals have "no understanding" or ability to reason, as shown in the opening conversation between Rainsford and Whitney; but Zaroff takes this concept of reasoning a step further. He feels hunting animals is far too easy, because they can't reason. Animals cannot make decisions the same way people do. They merely rely on the concept of fear to drive them.

Zaroff decides to create his own "game" where he can have a true challenge by hunting humans. While Rainsford scoffed at Whitney for his comments about animals having feelings, he is ironically in the same position as the "huntees." While he has no problem killing a helpless animal, he vehemently opposes Zaroff's concept of hunting humans for sport. However, if Rainsford wishes to survive Zaroff's game, he will have no choice but to play, which possibly means killing Zaroff and going against his morals.

Rainsford's conflict creates moral tension in the story by illuminating foil characters who have diametrically opposing beliefs—beliefs that Rainsford will have to grapple with to stay alive. In turn, Rainsford is left to ponder the concepts of murder, violence, survival, and empathy as he goes against his own belief of killing humans for sport to ensure that he ends up as the "hunter."

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When it comes to how they view hunting, Zaroff and Rainsford do not actually differ very much. They both view it as a contest between the strong and the weak—or perhaps as stronger versus less strong. They both seek a thrill in the hunt, a rush of excitement and danger that only comes from hunting dangerous game. When the story begins, both men care little for the feelings and plight of the creatures that they hunt. Indeed, Rainsford laughs derisively when a shipmate asks him if he has ever considered the feelings of the animals he hunts.

Zaroff, however, takes this a step further. Unlike Rainsford, he draws little distinction between animals and people. Since hunting animals (even dangerous ones) has ceased to excite him, he has turned to the hunting of people. Zaroff represents what happens when one's passion (in this case, big game hunting) is taken to the extreme.

Rainsford, right or wrong, draws a clear moral line between killing animals and people. Zaroff, concerned only with his own interests, has stepped over that line. He sees his hunting of people as the natural course of action for his passion. He has become blind to its consequences and what it has done to him ethically and morally.

In the end, it remains unclear how this has affected Rainsford. After being hunted, he can empathize with the animals he has formerly pursued. However, we do not know if this means that...

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he will give up his old ways or, like Zaroff, take them one giant step further and become a true fanatic with no further regard for human life.

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Interestingly, instead of being presented as polar opposites on hunting, Rainsford and Zaroff both hold similar views on the sport: Rainsford views life as being separated into hunters and prey, as does Zaroff.

However, Zaroff is the only one willing to take these ideas to their logical conclusion, namely, that this includes human beings as well as animals. Zaroff sees some human lives as having less worth than others and therefore finds it morally acceptable to hunt them down for sport. Rainsford is horrified by this idea. His refusal to participate in Zaroff's mad games leads him to become prey for the first time.

In the end, Zaroff does not necessarily become a pacifist. The question as to whether or not he will become more sympathetic to the animals he hunts or more monstrous as a person is up for debate. When he breaks into Zaroff's room, he kills him and takes his bed, leaving the reader to wonder just what Rainsford will do come the next morning-- take up Zaroff's place or return to civilization?

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Both General Zaroff and Rainsford are sportsmen who have an affinity for hunting wild game. They are both accomplished hunters and enjoy tracking down exotic, dangerous, difficult animals to hunt. Initially, Rainsford and Zaroff share similar perspectives on hunting. At the beginning of the short story, Rainsford tells Whitney,

The world is made up of two classes—the hunters and the huntees (Connell 1).

Later on, Zaroff shares his similar opinion of hunting by telling Rainsford,

Life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong, and, if need be, taken by the strong. The weak of the world were put here to give the strong pleasure" (Connell 8).

While both Zaroff and Rainsford initially have similar philosophies regarding hunting, they have drastically different opinions concerning the value of human life. General Zaroff turns out to be a maniacal fanatic who takes pleasure in hunting humans trapped on his island. While General Zaroff refers to humans as the "most dangerous game," Rainsford views him as an insane murderer. The tension between Zaroff and Rainsford's perspectives on human life and hunting contributes to the moral message of the story, which examines the nature of fanaticism, the sport of hunting, and the value of human life. By the end of the story, Rainsford gains perspective on what it is like to be the prey and develops sympathy for the animals he once hunted.

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