Is "The Most Dangerous Game" an example of commercial fiction or literary fiction?
"The Most Dangerous Game" is a perfect example of a story written as commercial fiction that has gained the status of literary or classic fiction through age, notability, and influence. The story has been copied and used as inspiration many time, and is considered an archetypal example of suspense fiction. The story is often derided as a common piece of exploitation, with no merits other than an appeal to baser parts of human nature. It is also criticised for containing no overt or intentional symbolism or allegory; the story is usually interpreted as exactly what it is: a thrilling story about a man who hunts other men. While the direct literary qualities of the story are debatable, one can argue that the story avoids purple prose or unnecessary exposition by presenting the story in clear, plain terms, without the typical trappings of literary fiction. In fact, the story shows very powerful themes of conflict, including Man versus Man (Rainsford and Zaroff) and Man versus Society (Zaroff and the outside world), and through the action and adventure the two main characters are developed through their deeds, not through explanation or reputation.
That the story is still taught in schools shows how it has become accepted as a classic piece of fiction, if not a literary one. Overall, opinion comes down to whether the story is personally enjoyable or not. To summarize, it started out as commercial fiction with a broad appeal to a broad audience but has become a short story classic, which redefines it as literary fiction.
Richard Connell’s short story “The Most Dangerous Game” fits far more neatly into the category of commercial fiction than in literary fiction. While well-written and conceptualized, it makes no pretense to be anything other than what it is: the story of a trophy hunter finding out what it means to become the hunted. In general, commercial fiction is designed more for entertainment value and financial profit than for any notion of literary importance. It is targeted more at the reading public at large than at any notable niche audience.
“The Most Dangerous Game” was originally published in Collier’s magazine, a weekly compilation of short stories and articles. While its publication in a magazine like Collier’s hardly excludes it from the ranks of literary fiction, its subject, style and pacing qualify it for inclusion in the category of commercial fiction. Its enduring life and the extent to which it remains required reading in many high school and college courses facilitated its movement to the more “serious” category of literary fiction. As noted, however, its superficial characterizations, writing style and rapid pacing place it squarely in the category of commercial fiction.