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

The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Edward Connell

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Historical Context

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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 29 zebras. In the story, Zaroff describes similar hunting trips. Whereas Zaroff's most dangerous game was the human, Roosevelt considered the American grizzly bear the most threatening—he was nearly mauled by one while hunting in Wyoming. As a youth, Connell lived near Roosevelt in rural New York in an area near the Hudson River known for its pristine wilderness.

Bigotry in America

In "The Most Dangerous Game," Zaroff's comments regarding ethnic types reflect the sentiments of anti-immigrant advocates of the time. Zaroff describes his hunting of men to Rainsford and justifies it by saying, "I hunt the scum of the earth sailors from tramp ships—Lascars, blacks, Chinese, whites, mongrels—a thoroughbred horse or hound is worth more than a score of them.'' In the 1920s, this attitude was not uncommon among Connell's American audience. Americans whose families had immigrated only decades earlier frequently launched vitriolic attacks against immigrants who were perceived to be inundating the work force and lowering the American standard of living. One writer of the period, Kenneth...

(This entire section contains 672 words.)

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Roberts, warned that unrestricted immigration would create "a hybrid race of people as worthless and futile as the good-for-nothing mongrels of Central America and Southeastern Europe." Federal dictates began restricting the entrance of immigrants into America. In 1921, Congress set strict quotas for each European country, and the National Origins Act of 1924 reassigned quotas that gave privilege to British, German, and Scandinavian immigrants over Italians, Poles, and Slavs. The 1924 regulations completely restricted the immigration of Asians, Africans, and Hispanics.

Social Sensitivity

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The morality of hunting is the primary issue of social consequence addressed by "The Most Dangerous Game." The author portrays hunters as compulsive killers who are intrinsically bloodthirsty and cruel. Both Zaroff and Rainsford seem to have an insatiable need to find greater and greater challenges and more and more creatures to kill. That Rainsford initially stops short of adding human beings to his catalog of desirable prey does little to separate him from the unapologetic Zaroff. In the end, Rainsford succumbs to the same temptation as Zaroff, quenching his hunter's need for ever greater adventure, ever higher danger, and ever greater satisfaction of the kill.

Readers who hunt for sport may take offense at being associated with Zaroff's bloodlust and murderous tendencies. Readers who oppose hunting and the killing of innocent creatures will find themselves identifying with the author's obvious condemnation of such sport.

In an effort to provoke reflection and debate, Connell singles out certain races and ethnic groups who were, at the time of writing, the subject of considerable prejudice by those opposed to immigration, both in the United States and in Europe. They were often treated as sub-human and denied the basic rights afforded other members of society. These people are the pawns in Zaroff's game. Believing himself superior to them in all respects, Zaroff refers to the unfortunate sailors he traps and hunts to death as the "scum of the earth—sailors from tramp ships—lascars, blacks, Chinese, whites, mongrels," placing less value on their lives than on one of his hounds. People still struggle with such misplaced prejudice today.

Compare and Contrast

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1920s: Big game hunting in African and South American countries is popular with wealthy Europeans and Americans. In 1909, Theodore Roosevelt and his son kill 512 animals on an African safari.

Today: Most big game hunting in Africa and South America is illegal due to dwindling animal populations. The number of tourists visiting these areas, however, has reached record highs.

1920s: American foreign policy favors intervention in the governmental affairs of Caribbean nations.

Today: Despite decades of economic embargoes and other tactics on the part of the United States, Cuba remains controlled by Fidel Castro's communist forces. The United States regularly restricts refugees from Cuba and other poverty-stricken and unstable countries from entering the United States.

1920s: The Soviet Union, led by Vladimir Lenin, is established in the aftermath of the Russian Civil War. Private ownership of property and Christianity are banned, and the Cossacks—military forces loyal to the Tzar—are killed or deported. Economic conditions, however, fail to improve on a wide scale.

Today: The Soviet Union has been dissolved and the Russian president is elected by popular vote. Democratic and capitalistic economic reforms have failed to stem the widespread poverty, inflation, and lack of goods and services that affect the majonty of the people.


Style, Form, and Literary Elements


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