Who is the narrator of the story "The Most Dangerous Game"?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The story is told with a third person omniscient narrator from Sanger Rainsford’s perspective.

When a story is told from a third person omniscient narrator, that means that there is one person telling the story and third person pronouns are used.  Third person pronouns are pronouns like “he” and “them.”.  You can tell from sentences like this.

An abrupt sound startled him. Off to the right he heard it, and his ears, expert in such matters, could not be mistaken. Again he heard the sound, and again. Somewhere, off in the blackness, someone had fired a gun three times.

You can tell this is third person from the fact that it says “him” and “his” to describe Rainsford, instead of “me” and “my.”  This makes the story third person, because the narrator is distant from the characters and not one of the characters.

How do you tell third person limited from third person omniscient?  A third person limited narrator will focus on one character, while a third person omniscient narrator will focus on all of them.  In this case, the story is told with a third person omniscient bent, but it focuses mostly on Rainsford because he is the one the story follows most of the time.

Occasionally, we will get to hear from Zaroff.  This is how we know that it is in fact an omniscient narrator.

Two slight annoyances kept him from perfect enjoyment. One was the thought that it would be difficult to replace Ivan; the other was that his quarry had escaped him

Rainsford is the one who is prey, and Zaroff is the predator.  While we do know what Zaroff is thinking some of the time, it is usually through what he says. Rainsford is our usual focus.

He had not been entirely clearheaded when the chateau gates snapped shut behind him. His whole idea at first was to put distance between himself and General Zaroff; and, to this end, he had plunged along, spurred on by the sharp rowers of something very like panic.

This is why I say that the story uses the third person omniscient with a focus on Rainsford and not on Zaroff. We usually only learn what Zaroff is thinking from what Rainsford thinks he is thinking and what he says (other than in the instances described where we peer into Zaroff's thoughts).

So who is Rainsford?

Rainsford is principled.  When Zaroff first introduces the concept of hunting humans to him, Rainsford is horrified.

"I can't believe you are serious, General Zaroff. This is a grisly joke."

"Why should I not be serious? I am speaking of hunting."

"Hunting? Great Guns, General Zaroff, what you speak of is murder."

Rainsford is skilled.  He has talent for evasion, setting traps, and making weapons.

"Rainsford," called the general, "if you are within sound of my voice, as I suppose you are, let me congratulate you. Not many men know how to make a Malay mancatcher. Luckily for me I, too, have hunted in Malacca. You are proving interesting, Mr. Rainsford.

Rainsford has nerve.  When General Zaroff forces him to play the game, he often finds himself caught in a game of cat and mouse with the general.  He never gives up.  He keeps playing, and every time the general ups his game, he ups his.

"Rainsford!" screamed the general. "How in God's name did you get here?"

"Swam," said Rainsford. "I found it quicker than walking through the jungle."

The general sucked in his breath and smiled. "I congratulate you," he said. "You have won the game."

Of course, Rainsford's response is to end the game on his terms, by killing the general.  You can interpret why he does this in one of two ways.  He either has given up his principles and has given in to murder, or he wants to make sure Zaroff never murders again.

Rainsford is an interesting man.  He is a skilled hunter, and he has published many books on the subject.  He is able to make traps of several kinds, and uses his skills as a hunter to practice evasion in order to get away from Zaroff.  Even though he gets nervous, he keeps his cool and evades a very skilled hunter experienced at hunting men, and he is the first one to stay alive at Zaroff's game.  

Not only does he survive, but he wins, and then kills Zaroff even though he knows that he will let him go.  He gives up his principles, because he previously showed that he thought that hunting men was immoral, to make sure that Zaroff's hunting days are over, or to get revenge.  He makes sure that Zaroff knows that he has reduced him to his animal instincts.

The general sucked in his breath and smiled. "I congratulate you," he said. "You have won the game."

Rainsford did not smile. "I am still a beast at bay," he said, in a low, hoarse voice. "Get ready, General Zaroff."

In this story, we learn about a man who thinks it is okay to hunt humans, and a man whose faith in humanity is tested.  Rainsford tests the limits of his endurance and his conscience.  His will, his nerve, and his abilities are put to the limit.  It is more effective in this case to use an omniscient narrator to look at both sides of the coin, because the world is made up of both the hunter and the hunted.

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The Most Dangerous Game

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