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The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Edward Connell

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General Zaroff's Mental and Ethical Characterization in "The Most Dangerous Game"


General Zaroff is depicted as both mentally sharp and ethically corrupt. He possesses a keen intellect and strategic mind, which he uses to hunt human beings for sport. Ethically, he is deeply flawed, lacking empathy and viewing human life as expendable, which reveals his moral depravity and detachment from humane values.

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Is General Zaroff from "The Most Dangerous Game" insane?

General Zaroff, the antagonist in Richard Connel's short story "The Most Dangerous Game," is most assuredly criminally insane. After all, the general hunts men. He must be considered one of the most diabolical characters in all of literature. He has taken his obsession with hunting and bloodshed to a point that is beyond even the most brutal of men. It's no surprise that he lives on a remote island away from the laws and morality of civilization. 

What makes Zaroff even more hideous is that he considers himself exceptional in every way and culturally above others. When Rainsford first meets Zaroff, the general calls his servant Ivan, a "savage" and has even less regard for the men he hunts. Zaroff explains, 

"Life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong, and, if needs be, taken by the strong. The weak of the world were put here to give the strong pleasure. I am strong. Why should I not use my gift?. If I wish to hunt, why should I not? 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."

That Zaroff considers it a "gift" to be able to hunt down and kill men confirms his insanity. The fact that he lives in a palatial chateau, eats the finest food, drinks imported wine, and reads from the annals of Marcus Aurelius do not change the fact that he is sociopath. The reader should certainly cheer the ending when it is revealed that Rainsford will sleep in the "very excellent bed" and Zaroff will be "a repast for the hounds."

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Is General Zaroff from "The Most Dangerous Game" opinionated?

Indeed, General Zaroff is a very opinionated character. Zaroff holds himself in extremely high regard and sees himself as above humanity. This allows him to excuse his behavior and actions throughout the story. He believes that other men are beneath him and are no different than the animals he previously hunted. However, he does note that man is the only animal to be able to use his intelligence to work against his adversary, and as such, is the only suitable prey for a hunter of his magnitude.

Zaroff believes heavily in the principle of "survival of the fittest," saying, "the weak of the world were put here to give the strong pleasure." In his eyes, Zaroff has the power to do whatever he wants with the "creatures" beneath him, and his arrogance ultimately proves his undoing when Rainsford gets the better of him after a long hunt.

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Is General Zaroff from "The Most Dangerous Game" a sociopath?

One could consider General Zaroff a sociopath because he shares many of the same characteristics as sociopaths, which include a lack of remorse or shame for his actions as well as impulsiveness and a lack of sincerity. Sociopaths tend to be highly intelligent narcissists who have no empathy or concern for others. They are willing to violate the rights of others for personal pleasure or gain. Generally, sociopaths do not respect social norms or laws and engage in violent, aggressive behaviors.

The defining character trait of sociopaths is their inability to experience guilt or remorse for their actions, which is exactly how General Zaroff behaves throughout "The Most Dangerous Game." Zaroff is depicted as an intelligent, refined man with a complex personality. While he enjoys modern amenities and behaves like a Renaissance man, Zaroff is a callous, insensitive individual, and he murders innocent people for pleasure. Zaroff expresses absolutely no remorse for his actions and is actually offended when Rainsford calls him a murderer. His disregard for laws and human life, as well as his narcissistic personality, are additional qualities that make General Zaroff a sociopath.

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Is General Zaroff from "The Most Dangerous Game" a sociopath?

To answer this question, one must first understand what the technical definition of a sociopath is.

According to the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (used by physicians to define mental disorders)), a sociopath is also known as one who is named as having Antisocial Personality Disorder (or ASPD). Characteristics associated with ASPD are:

-longstanding pattern disregarding the rights of others

-reduced ability to feel empathy

-failure to conform and to the expectations and norms as defined by society

-lack of remorse for wrongdoing

-failure to consider consequences for actions


Based upon these characteristics, one could easily consider that General Zaroff, from Richard Connell's short story The Most Dangerous Game, is a sociopath. Zaroff disregards the rights of others by forcing them to take part in his games. He also feels no sympathy for those who he forces to play. Society would surely not accept or condone his hunting of humans, and he, therefore, cannot conform to society's ideas based upon hunting rights. Zaroff has no feelings of remorse or that he has (or is) doing anything wrong (based upon the fact that he continues to hunt humans).

The only two characteristics which Zaroff does not possess are impulsiveness and failure to consider consequences for his actions. Zaroff is not compulsive. His entire island as been thought out and planned completely. As for the consequences, it is his pride that keeps Zaroff from accepting the consequences. His success to this point (meeting Rainsford) has allowed him to become confidant that he will not be caught or punished.

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