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The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Edward Connell

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Why is the lighthouse an important symbol in "The Most Dangerous Game"?

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In Connell's short story, General Zaroff explains to Rainsford how he traps defenseless men on his island as he walks towards his window and shows Rainsford a light in the middle of the sea that indicates a false channel. The general explains to Rainsford that ships travel toward the lighthouse under the assumption that they will be sailing into a safe channel; however, they are unaware that they are heading directly toward sharp, dangerous rocks that will damage their ship.

In literature, lighthouses often represent safe havens that offer protection from dangerous waters. In Connell's short story, the symbolic meaning of the lighthouse is perverted, because it leads ships toward dangerous seas. Similarly, General Zaroff corrupts and distorts the game of hunting by murdering defenseless people. The general perverts places of refuge by making them dangerous and fatal.

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Richard Connell's adventurous short story, The Most Dangerous Game, gains strength from his use of symbols, specifically that of the lighthouse.

Lighthouses... have become symbolic monuments of society’s efforts to reduce the hazards of seafaring.

However, General Zaroff's lighthouse, is far from "reduc[ing] the hazards of seafaring." Instead, it plays an ironic and symbolic role in its connection to the setting of Shiptrap Island.

If one first looks closely at the functions of a lighthouse, one can begin to better understand its symbolism and ironic use in the story.

Lighthouses have always had two principal functions: to warn of danger from a spot that sailors could see from a safe distance both night and day, and to be guides into harbors or anchorages.

Obviously, Zaroff's lighthouse served a different function: instead of a warning to sailors to ensure safety, his lighthouse ironically guided sailors into his cove entrapping them into his "Most Dangerous Game" and hunting entertainment. Hence the island's name, Shiptrap Island.

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