The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Edward Connell

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Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The dominant technique of this story is that of ironic reversal. Not only does the plot contain reversals that challenge the surface meaning of the story, but also the characters, with their sometimes opposed, sometimes parallel visions of the world, establish expectations that are ironically reversed by the end of the story. The style intentionally directs the reader to think in terms of opposition: hunter versus hunted, strong versus weak, man versus animal, reason versus instinct, civilization versus brutality. However, these obviously opposed pairings disguise a greater complexity; the world is not really arranged so neatly. To be successful, the hunter must imitate the hunted, the man must act the animal, civilization must disguise its brutality.

The final irony, that Rainsford conquers a murderer by killing him, is a last trick on the reader, who has been led to believe that one of the values represented by half of each set of paired opposites is better than the other. No such certainty is possible in a story designed to challenge the conventional understanding of civilized behavior.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

American Interest in Central America and the Caribbean
By 1924, the year "The Most Dangerous Game'' was published, the United States was firmly committed to Latin American politics. Military concerns and economic interests, including banking, investments, and the exploitation of natural resources, tied American interests to Latin America and resulted in expansionist legislation. The Platt Amendment of 1901 provided for American intervention in Cuba in case an unstable new government failed to protect life, liberty and property; this was written into Cuba's constitution. In 1905 President Roosevelt urged European nations to keep out of Latin America. He believed the United States was the only nation that should interfere in their politics. This paternal, interventionist attitude was typical of much of the United States's Latin American foreign policy. Such policy, highlighted by the construction of the Panama Canal, created solely for the sake of American shipping and naval power, would continue to influence Latin American politics for decades to come.

Latin Americans have consistently wavered between supporting American foreign policy and rejecting it as intrusive, meddlesome, and overpowering. Indeed, America's and other first-world nations' continuous economic exploitation of Caribbean and Latin American countries has resulted in a crippling dependence on international trade. By often terrifying, scandalous means, Western companies have controlled the economies of relatively underdeveloped nations like Jamaica, thereby insuring their dependence on foreign trade. The economies of such countries have often become entirely dependent on the corporations that have exploited them, which has frequently resulted in mass poverty. The wrecking of native economies and their growing dependence on international conglomerations has spurred the coining of the term, "banana republics." Into these turbulent and contested Caribbean waters, Rainsford falls.

Big Game Hunting in South America
In Connell's era, big-game hunting in South America was done mainly by outfitted safari. The most desired species were jaguar, puma, ocelot, red deer, and buffalo. The jaguar, the most powerful and most feared carnivore in South America, was a prized trophy. It attains a length of eight feet and can weigh up to four hundred pounds. The great cat was hunted primarily with hounds in the forests of Venezuela, Columbia, Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay. In this story, Rainsford and his companions are preparing to hunt jaguar.

Roosevelt and Hunting
Like General Zaroff in Connell's story, President Theodore Roosevelt, who would later found the National Parks System in the United States, was an insatiable hunter. He traveled all over the globe to hunt. On safari in Africa, Roosevelt and his son killed 512 animals, including 17 lions, 11 elephants, 20 rhinoceroses, 9 giraffes, 8 hippopotamuses and...

(The entire section is 3,803 words.)