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The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Edward Connell

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How does Rainsford's hunting attitude differ from Whitney's in The Most Dangerous Game?

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Rainsford is a hunter who views hunting as a sport. He does not view the animals he hunts as having any feelings or emotions. Whitney and Rainsford have an argument about the rights of men to hunt and kill animals for sport.

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On the yacht heading to South America where they will hunt jaguars, Rainsford and Whitney disagree over hunting. Whitney suggests that the animals they hunt have feelings such as fear and pain. Rainsford totally disregards these ideas and claims the animals have "no understanding" of what is happening to them. Rainsford is a selfish hunter. He views it as his prerogative to hunt down animals. It is, for him, the "best sport in the world" and he certainly isn't going to let thoughts of the animal get in the way of his enjoyment. He tells Whitney, "Be a realist. The world is made up of two classes—the hunters and the huntees. Luckily, you and I are the hunters."

This conversation provides foreshadowing for Rainsford's later encounter with General Zaroff. The general makes the same basic argument when he explains to Rainsford why he hunts men. He claims it is his right. He is the fittest and strongest. He says, "If I wish to hunt, why should I not hunt?" The early discussion with Whitney also proves to be ironic because later, when Rainsford is being hunted, he does feel the "fear of pain and the fear of death" as he is being pursued by Zaroff through the jungles of the general's island. At the end he refers to himself as a "beast at bay" and readers may infer that he will give up hunting after his bizarre confrontation with Zaroff.

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How is Rainsford's attitude in conflict with Whitney's?

Sanger Rainsford disagrees completely with Whitney's sympathy for the animals that they hunt. He reduces the hunt to the "hunters and the huntees."

In the exposition of Richard Connell's suspenseful short story, "The Most Dangerous Game," the main character, Rainsford, sits with his hunting-friend named Whitney on deck of their ship on a moonless Caribbean night. With subtle foreshadowing of the ironic twist to this story, Rainsford and Whitney discuss their approaching hunt for jaguars "up the Amazon." 

Whitney remarks that hunting is great sport, and Rainsford concurs, "The best sport in the world." But, Whitney clarifies this remark as only the best for the hunter, not for the jaguar. Rainsford counters,

"Don't talk rot, Whitney...You're a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?"
"Perhaps the jaguar does," observed Whitney.
"Bah! They've no understanding."
"Even so, I rather think they understand one thing--fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death."

Clearly, then, Rainsford and Whitney differ in their concern regarding the prey of the hunt. While Rainsford does not care in the least how the hunted animal feels, whether it panics or is terrorized or in pain or dies, Whitney sympathizes with the hunted animal, recognizing that it feels the agonizing fears of pain and death. 

Ironically, Rainsford later becomes one of the "huntees" and, then, he himself experiences first-hand the terror of the "beast at bay" and, thus, acquires a new understanding, an understanding that Whitney has exhibited at the beginning.  

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What attitude does Rainsford have toward the hunted in his dialogue with Whitney?

In his beginning dialogue with Whitney, Rainsford displays absolutely no compassion for the animals he hunts and kills.  He asks Whitney, "Who cares how a jaguar feels?" Then he tells Whitney the world is divided into "hunters and huntees," saying they are lucky they are the hunters and not the huntees.  As we read this beginning, we can see that the writer is setting us up for some plot element that will make Rainsford sorry he said this.

The more we learn about the intelligence of animals, the worse a position like Rainsford's seems to me.  There is no indication that Rainsford had ever hunted an animal to feed himself, which most people find to be necessary (even if the slaughter is done for them by a slaughterhouse).  Aside from the consequence of killing off endangered species, who play important roles in the earth's ecosystems, do you think it is ethical to kill animals for sport? 

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