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The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Edward Connell

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What causes Rainsford's transformation in "The Most Dangerous Game"?

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In "The Most Dangerous Game," Rainsford's terrifying experience being hunted throughout Ship-Trap Island by the deranged, obsessive General Zaroff significantly changes his perspective and outlook on life. After surviving the most dangerous game, Rainsford gains empathy for animals being hunted and recognizes that there are some scenarios when killing another human is justified and necessary.

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Sanger Rainsford's terrifying experience being hunted throughout Ship-Trap Island by the deranged General Zaroff completely transforms him into a more sympathetic individual with a different outlook on life. Before Rainsford swims to Ship-Trap Island and is forced to survive in the wilderness for three days while being hunted by Zaroff, he has a narrow, unsympathetic outlook on life and hunting. As a world-renowned big-game hunter, Rainsford lacks compassion for the animals he hunts and believes that he has the right to kill them because he is a superior being. Rainsford expresses his narrow view by saying, "The world is made up of two classes—the hunters and the huntees." As the story progresses, Rainsford eventually becomes the prey in the most dangerous game and experiences firsthand the terror and pain of being hunted. Rainsford transforms into a "beast at bay" and changes his perspective of hunting altogether. Rainsford's outlook on life transforms when he becomes the vulnerable prey and gains empathy for the animals he used to hunt.

Rainsford's morals regarding the value of human life and whether or not murder is justified also change in the story. When Rainsford first discovers that Zaroff hunts humans, he is repulsed and disgusted by the general's savage confession. However, Rainsford experiences a moral dilemma when he recognizes that he must kill Zaroff in order to survive. By killing Zaroff, Rainsford is going against his morals and behaving the same as the evil general. Eventually, Rainsford realizes that Zaroff will stop at nothing to kill him and changes his perspective regarding the issue of taking a human life. At the end of the story, Rainsford ends up killing Zaroff in self-defense, which illustrates his belief that there are times when taking a human life is justified and necessary.

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Sanger Rainsford experiences a significant transformation and gains perspective after being hunted by the maniacal General Zaroff throughout Ship-Trap Island for three consecutive days. At the beginning of the story, Rainsford expresses his belief that the world is made up of two classes: "the hunters and the huntees." He believes that it is his inalienable right to exercise his strength and dominance over weaker beings. Rainsford also lacks sympathy for the animals he hunts and tells Whitney that the prey has no understanding of what is going on while they are being hunted.

Unfortunately, Rainsford falls off the yacht and must swim to General Zaroff's nearby island. During his first meal with the general, Rainsford is appalled to learn that Zaroff hunts humans throughout the island for sport. Rainsford ends up becoming Zaroff's prey and is forced to avoid the general and survive on the treacherous island for three consecutive days. As Rainsford is being hunted, he gains perspective and sympathy for the animals he hunts. He experiences the feelings of terror, fear, and anxiety as Zaroff closes in on him with his group of hunting dogs. By the end of the story, Rainsford illustrates his dramatic transformation by telling the general, "I am still a beast at bay...Get ready, General Zaroff." Rainsford's harrowing experience has made him more sympathetic to the animals he hunts and has expanded his perspective on the sport of hunting. Without becoming Zaroff's prey and narrowly surviving his game, Rainsford would have probably remained a callous, insensitive big-game hunter.

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The cause of Rainsford's change is that he goes from being the hunter to being the hunted.

At the beginning of the story, Rainsford shows zero care for the animals that he hunts. He feels that the animals are prey and nothing more; they are not thinking and emotional creatures. They operate on nothing more than instinct; therefore, they do not feel fear.  

"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."

"Nonsense," laughed Rainsford.

All that changes after being shipwrecked on General Zaroff's island. Zaroff hunts humans, and he makes Rainsford his prey. Rainsford is appalled at the scenario; however, he has little choice but to run and fight for his survival. Once the hunting begins, Rainsford gets to see, feel, and understand the other side of the hunt. He gains a new respect for the animals that he hunts because he now understands what it feels like to be pursued by a relentless killer that has zero care for how his prey feels. Because he is being hunted by Zaroff, Rainsford now fully understands and empathizes with the animals that he once hunted. That is why the following quote from Rainsford is so important.

"I am still a beast at bay," he said, in a low, hoarse voice.

He does not say that he's a man seeking vengeance or even self-defense. Rainsford labels himself "a beast." He sees himself as an animal, and he is no longer thinking like a human. He's been cornered into a situation in which he absolutely must kill or be killed. That's what happens when an animal is cornered; it will fight harder than it ever has before with no concern for the other aggressor. That is now Rainsford. Gone is the opinion that killing another human being is morally suspect. That change in Rainsford would not have happened without his island experience.

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