What is the significance of of Rainsford's quote, "I am still a beast at bay," in "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell?
In Richard Connell's short story, "The Most Dangerous Game," we are presented with two hunters: of the two, one becomes the prey. The study of the main characters, General Zaroff and Sanger Rainsford, gives the reader a glimpse of the line that separates human beings from animals. In this story, Zaroff has turned his back on the mores of society so that he can hunt the "most dangerous game"—man—because he believes himself so superior to animals that pursuing them only bores him. Without conscience, he has hunted many men, excusing his behavior because these men were what Zaroff (ironically) considered less civilized than himself:
I hunt the scum of the earth—sailors from tramp ships...a thoroughbred horse is worth more than a score of them.
Soon after the stranded Rainsford meets General Zaroff, he not only learns that Zaroff hunts men for sport, but that if Rainsford will not join the game willingly, he will be hunted as the game.
Running for his life, Rainsford's background allows him to stay one step ahead of his mentally unbalanced "host." First Rainsford weaves a path he thinks is impossible to follow:
...only the devil himself could follow that complicated trail through the jungle after dark. But perhaps the general was a devil—
It seems so because Zaroff locates him...but pretends that he has not. In Zaroff's mind, the hunt would be over too quickly and the general has every intention of enjoying the sport of tracking one of the best hunters in the world: Rainsford. Abruptly, Zaroff leaves Rainsford alone:
The general was playing with him! The general was saving him for another day's sport! The Cossack was the cat; he was the mouse.
With this realization, Rainsford realizes what it is like for the hunted animal—the fear of capture and death...an idea that Rainsford had rejected earlier in the story with a fellow traveler:
[Animals] have no understanding...The world is made up of two classes—the hunters and the huntees. Luckily, you and I are hunters.
By now, we can infer that Rainsford feels differently. All that concerns him is surviving—so, he must think like a hunted animal. His only advantage is that he can reason as a man. He uses all of his skills to elude Zaroff, his servant—Ivan—and the general's dogs. Rainsford uses the "Malay man-catcher," a Burmese tiger pit, and a "native trick he had learned in Uganda." He kills one dog and Ivan, but Zaroff keeps coming. Finally Rainsford escapes into the water off of a cliff, leaving Zaroff to think he has chosen death in the ocean instead; so he returns to his home.
Rainsford, however, is not dead; he makes his way back to the house. When he confronts Zaroff—much to the general's surprise—Zaroff congratulates him on a game he has won. Zaroff's guest reminds him that he is not who was when he arrived, but that he is still the hunted...who will by any uncivilized means, survive. Rainsford warns his pursuer:
"I am still a beast at bay," he said in a hoarse voice. Get ready, General Zaroff."
Rainsford is saying that he is as dangerous as any animal. Zaroff is delighted that they will continue—he is undeterred that Rainsford is not just a man he faces.
While Zaroff acts like the predator—like a wild animal rather than a civilized man (though he cannot see this), Rainsford has learned to think like an animal to survive; this is what he is saying when he calls himself a beast. And very quickly, Rainsford kills Zaroff.