silhouette of a man with one eye open hiding in the jungle

The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Edward Connell

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Overview

The main characters in "The Most Dangerous Game" are Sanger Rainsford, General Zaroff, Ivan and Whitney.

  • Sanger Rainsford is a celebrated hunter and World War I veteran whose resourcefulness is put to the test when he washes up on the island of General Zaroff.
  • General Zaroff is a well-educated gentleman who has grown bored of hunting animals and has started hunting human beings, which he dubs "the most dangerous game."
  • Ivan is General Zaroff’s assistant. He helps orchestrate Zaroff's hunts and tortures men who refuse to be hunted by Zaroff.
  • Whitney is Rainsford's hunting companion, whose views on hunting clash with those of Rainsford.

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Sanger Rainsford

Sanger Rainsford is a well-known hunter from New York. He has written a number of books about hunting, one of which General Zaroff has read. He seems to have traveled extensively while pursuing game to hunt. He has learned a number of tricks from hunters of other nations, such as Uganda. He is resourceful and level-headed. He is physically robust and able to steady his nerves under even the most difficult of situations. He uses tricks he learned in France as a soldier in World War I in order to save his life on Zaroff's island. 

Rainsford has good eyes and is an excellent shot. At the beginning of the story, he thinks of these traits simply as beneficial for his hunting, but later they help him in evading General Zaroff when he is hunted. He also moves from being a person who cannot appreciate the fear a hunted animal must feel to being forced to endure that fear himself. 

The story offers considerable evidence that Rainsford is an excellent tracker. He also has a strong appreciation for the polite and cosmopolitan qualities of his host, General Zaroff, whom he believes to be elegant. However, he is horrified by the idea that Zaroff might want to hunt humans, arguing that humans can reason. General Zaroff's counterpoint to this is that hunting is only "sporting" if the hunted party can put up a challenge. By the end of the story, Rainsford, who earlier declared that he was no "murderer," has shifted his perspective and kills Zaroff for his own survival. 

View our extended character analysis of Sanger Rainsford.

General Zaroff 

General Zaroff is the "erect, slender" and well-mannered occupant of the mansion on Ship-Trap Island. A Cossack, the General was previously an officer of the Russian Czar, but was forced to flee Russia after the Revolution. Luckily, he had invested heavily in American securities, which meant he remained wealthy enough to continue his lifelong passion, hunting, around the globe. Eventually, however, he began to find that hunting was no longer interesting to him. At this point, he decided that he would come to Ship-Trap Island and begin hunting a more challenging prey: humans. 

Zaroff is an unflappable and cultured man who enjoys the finer things in life. Despite living alone on an island with only his servant for company, he enjoys cocktails before dinner and sleeps in an extremely comfortable bed. He even dresses properly for dinner in evening clothes, and from time to time he sings snatches of opera. To relax, he reads the works of authors such as Marcus Aurelius. He is also evidently excellent at his game of hunting humans, tracking Rainsford easily to his hiding places and often simply toying with him. 

Rainsford cannot quite reconcile the sophistication of Zaroff with his murderous ways. Zaroff's perspective is that a sophisticated man could only enjoy hunting a type of game that can "reason," so hunting humans is the more sophisticated form of the sport. 

View our extended character analysis of General Zaroff.

Whitney 

Whitney is Rainsford's hunting companion. The pair are sailing together on a yacht in the Caribbean at the beginning of the story. Although Whitney only appears at the start of the story, he serves an important role as a foil for Rainsford. The two are opposites in terms of their approaches to hunting and also to the world around them. Whitney also serves an expository function: His conversation with Rainsford early in the story informs the reader about Ship-Trap Island and the superstitions which have sprung up around it. Whitney explains that he and the sailors on board the yacht have exchanged stories about the island, and he says that far more seasoned sailors than he have been unwilling to go anywhere near it. This sets up the shift in setting from the yacht to the island.

Whitney seems to know Rainsford fairly well, remarking that he has "good eyes," an indication that the pair have hunted together for some time. He declares that hunting is a "great sport," but he also observes that it might not seem so wonderful for the jaguar. When Rainsford argues that jaguars have no understanding, Whitney counters that they certainly experience fear, both of pain and of imminent death. Rainsford, however, dismisses this, declaring it a "soft" idea. He states that he and Whitney are "hunters" rather than the converse, an idea which he will be forced to reconsider later in the story. Whitney also says that he has felt a "chill" while in the vicinity of the island, something which Rainsford also dismisses as superstition. As a whole, Whitney’s thoughts and intuitions, most of which Rainsford challenges, are proven valid by the end of the story.

Ivan 

Ivan is Rainsford's servant, a "gigantic" man with a large black beard. Deaf and mute, Ivan was formerly in the employ of the Russian Czar as a "knouter," or somebody who wielded a whip, presumably in punishment. Ivan seems to do all the major tasks around the island, including making and serving food, readying survival packs for Karoff's victims, and helping Zaroff to run his "training programme" for those who have been captured and are being trained as suitable game.

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