What is "The Most Dangerous Game" really about?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Richard Connell's short story relates what life is really about:  survival. 

General Zaroff, a wealthy and jaded military man has probably experienced the cruelty and inhumanity of man to man in his quest for power and glory.  Zaroff has seen life reduced to its lowest terms of survival of the fittest, the strong conquering the weak:  [the value of life] is "a romantic idea. I am a hunter, not a murderer...I only hunt the scum of the earth..." Zaroff declares, feeling justified in eliminating the weak.

In the exposition of the story, Rainsford and a crewmate discuss the "best sport in the world."  Whitney, the crewmate, retorts to Rainsford's idea that hunting jaguar is sport as the animal who is the prey finds the condition one of fear of pain or death. 

To this Rainsford counters, "Be a realist.  The world is made up of two classes--the hunters and the huntees."  Ironically, Rainsford soon learns the tremendous import of these words as he becomes the "huntee" in the grisly game of General Zaroff.

Like the hunted jaguar, Rainsford comes to know the fear of pain and of death; however, he outwits Zaroff and defeats the general. 

The story ends with Rainsford as the Darwinian hero:  "He had never slept in a better bed, Rainsford decided."  Rainsford glories in his stronger nature, understanding what is the real hunt in man's existence.

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