The Most Dangerous Game Analysis
- Connell's story subtly encourages readers to consider the differences between humans and animals. Relatedly, the story calls into question the ethical foundations of hunting by creating a scenario in which humans are both hunter and prey.
- Connell's rich, vivid imagery gives the story a verisimilitude that proves necessary when certain unlikely elements are introduced. Zaroff's Gothic mansion and his servant, Ivan, require a suspension of disbelief that is aided by the story's attention to sensuous detail.
- The story's shift in perspective, from Rainsford's to Zaroff's at the end, allows readers to approach the material in a balanced way.
Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 765
Richard Connell’s short story "The Most Dangerous Game" has been a staple of school curricula since it was first printed in 1924 for a number of reasons. First, its overriding themes are strong and readily identifiable: Connell presents two hunters, Rainsford and Zaroff, and implicitly asks readers whether one of them is really better than the other because he does not hunt human prey. Rainsford argues that he is not a “murderer,” but the narrative forces readers to question whether this is really true. Early in the story, Rainsford's retort to his companion, Whitney, is that animals cannot feel, but Whitney advocates for animals by arguing that they certainly can. Is it, then, more moral to kill a defenseless animal than to kill a person? Or is there value in Zaroff's contention that, in actuality, it is more unethical to kill an animal because it cannot reason and therefore cannot engage in the "game" with the hunter?
At the time of the story’s writing, hunting was not so widely condemned as it is today. On the contrary, it was a popular sport, particularly among the upper classes, a fact that is important for modern readers to understand. But Connell is driving his readers to reexamine their positions, something he also does by having Zaroff declare that "a thoroughbred horse or hound" is worth more than those he deems to be "the scum of the earth." Connell implicitly raises the question of what makes a person a person. Zaroff suggests that obvious demarcations are unimportant. He does not divide the world into humans and animals, superior or inferior races, but simply into two classes: the weak and the strong.
The narrative style of Connell’s story is straightforward and engaging, essentially taking the format of an adventure story. He succeeds in making his world vivid and atmospheric through the use of imagery, describing the "warm blackness" of the air pressing in on the hunters and the "blood-warm" waters of the sea. He has chosen his setting for its oppressiveness: readers can almost feel the "slap" of salt water against Rainsford's face, the rustle of the undergrowth, and the "velvet" thickness of the darkness through which Rainsford struggles to see.
Connell describes the Caribbean setting, oppressive in its warmth and wildness, helping readers to feel that they, too, are groping through the undergrowth with Rainsford. Connell’s vivid depiction of the island setting gives the story a grounding that allows him to include the wholly unexpected Gothic mansion of Zaroff. The elaborate mansion is so entirely out of place on the island that Rainsford's first thought is that it must be a "mirage," something which seems almost a nod to readers that disbelief should be suspended here. Of course, it is highly unlikely that there should be islands in the Caribbean on which exiled Russian aristocrats have built Gothic mansions. The situation is highly unlikely, but it is real to Rainsford. And because this island has been so richly evoked, with all senses appealed to through Connell's imagery, it seems real to readers, too.
The perspective Connell uses in his short story is also of vital importance. Connell, for the majority of the narrative, uses a third-person limited perspective that places readers in Rainsford’s experience. This has two effects: first, it tells the reader that Rainsford is the protagonist of the story, which encourages some level of identification with him. When he expresses distaste about Zaroff's "game" and argues that he is not a "murderer," readers are inclined to agree with him or at least to carefully consider his views....
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Secondly, this perspective maintains the suspense. The reader, like Rainsford, is always on the alert, waiting for the reappearance of General Zaroff and without any awareness of what is going to happen next. By changing perspective at the end of the story, then, Connell achieves two goals. First, he challenges the idea that it is merely Rainsford with whom readers should identify. When Zaroff worries about the death of his servant and tries to calm himself by reading Marcus Aurelius, he seems rational, even sympathetic. Far from being a man obsessed only with killing, he is shown to have other interests and a broader inner life. Second, it is this shift in perspective which allows readers to see the tables turn: Rainsford is ultimately the hunter, while Zaroff experiences what it is like to be hunted, as Rainsford has been for the majority of the story. Through this narrative switch, Connell underlines the fact that Zaroff and Rainsford may not be so different after all.