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The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Edward Connell

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What is Rainsford's internal conflict in "The Most Dangerous Game"?

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Rainsford's internal conflict in "The Most Dangerous Game" centers around maintaining his composure under extreme fear while being hunted by General Zaroff. His survival depends on his ability to think clearly and not give in to panic. Simultaneously, he grapples with the moral dilemma of having to kill another human being, Zaroff, to save his own life—a stark contrast to his earlier belief as a hunter that killing animals was not murder.

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Rainsford is being hunted by a madman who has everything in his favor. Zaroff, the Cossack general, is an expert hunter. He has a powerful rifle and a pack of dogs. All the odds are against Rainsford. His inner conflict involves not losing his nerve, not becoming panicked. If he becomes panicked he won't be able to think straight, and his only hope of survival is being able to use his wits to elude and trick his pursuer. 

Rainsford did not want to believe what his reason told him was true, but the truth was as evident as the sun that had by now pushed through the morning mists. The general was playing with him! The general was saving him for another day's sport! The Cossack was the cat; he was the mouse. Then it was that Rainsford knew the full meaning of terror.

"I will not lose my nerve. I will not."

Rainsford is terrified, but experience has taught him that it is possible to act rationally and effectively even when experiencing great fear. Ernest Hemingway called this "grace under pressure." Soldiers in combat have to learn to perform as they have been trained to do even though they are experiencing the completely normal emotion of fear.

"Nerve, nerve, nerve!" he panted, as he dashed along.

The author, Richard Connell, emphasizes that Rainsford does not win the one-sided contest with Zaroff because he is fearless but because he able to keep control of himself in spite of his fear. Rainsford likes hunting big game himself because the animals are dangerous. No doubt he has been in perilous situations many times before. This is a great asset. He has learned self-control.

"The Most Dangerous Game" is somewhat reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway's story "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber." In that story the main character loses his nerve when he is confronted by a charging male lion. If Robert Wilson, the guide, hadn't stood his ground and killed the lion, Macomber would have been killed. Later when they are hunting buffalo Macomber learns to control himself in spite of fear, and it is an exhilarating, life-changing experience with which the reader can identify because of Hemingway's magical writing ability.

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In the short story "The Most Dangerous Game," the character Rainsford struggles with several internal conflicts. As a hunter, Rainsford clearly doesn't see killing animals as murder. He meets General Zaroff and the two discuss the matterin depth. When he learns of Zaroff's plan to hunt him, he is forced to question that belief. He must also struggle with his desire to survive and his feelings about killing another human being. Zaroff will kill Rainsford unless Rainsford can kill him first. In the beginning, Rainsford tries to hide from Zaroff and his servant Ivan. Eventually, Rainsford kills Ivan, but Zaroff will not stop hunting him. Rainsford must decide if he will kill Zaroff to save himself.
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In "The Most Dangerous Game," what is the internal conflict of Rainsford/Zaroff and how does it affect them?

Let's take a moment to review what an internal conflict is...  

A conflict is the struggle between two opposing forces.  Stories have external conflicts, like character vs. character / character vs. nature / character vs. society / or character vs. himself (outward things he or she does that hurt him/herself).

However, you are asking about internal conflicts, so let's move on to those.

Internal conflicts occur when a character has a decision to make.  The struggle he/she encounters while deciding what to do is an internal conflict.

I like to tell my students that an internal conflict takes place within a character's heart or head. 

Therefore, when considering "The Most Dangerous Game," the most significant internal conflicts occur 

  • when Zaroff decides whether or not to include Rainsford as a peer and fellow hunter of humans or hunt him like he has hunted the other shipwrecked men who have washed up on his island
  • when Rainsford has to decide whether or not to join Zaroff in his hunt(s) as a means to save his own life

We can look into each of these further to prove the depth of their internal conflict.

When considering the first example, the reader knows that Rainsford's presence at Zaroff's table presents to the general a very unique and thrilling circumstance.  Zaroff respects Rainsford's famous hunting skills and has read his books. In his mind, he is likely thinking that Rainsford will understand his new hunting technique if anyone will. His internal conflict is evident when the narrator says, 

"But there was one small trait of the general's that made Rainsford uncomfortable.  Whenever he looked up from his plate he found the general studying him, appraising him narrowly."

Why would he be doing this?  Because he is trying to decide whether Rainsford is the kind of hunter who could appreciate the new form of hunting that he has "invented."  If he is, then Zaroff has found an admirable companion for his new sport; if he is not, then Zaroff will have to treat this fellow hunter with the same disdain that he does all the other men who find themselves shipwrecked upon his island.  It is that contemplation--that decision--that is his internal conflict.

When considering the second example, Raisnford converses with Zaroff about his sport for quite a while, mostly because he cannot believe that he has run into such a man. He calls Zaroff's implication that he hunts humans a "grisly joke."  Further, he says he "will not condone cold-blooded murder." In spite of this protest, and probably because it had little effect on Zaroff, Rainsford has trouble sleeping over night.  This evidence suggests that Rainsford has to decide how he will go about saving his own life: should he join Zaroff, though it literally repulses him, as a means to spare himself?  How will he get himself out of this predicament? This struggle is his internal conflict.

The beauty of internal conflicts is in their link to the human condition--we all have moments when we struggle with what to do and/or how to do it. Sometimes it's our heads that cause our angst, and sometimes it's our hearts.  

For more insight into Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game," see the link below.  

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In "The Most Dangerous Game," what is the internal conflict of Rainsford/Zaroff and how does it affect them?

Internal conflict happens inside the character: Man vs. Self. An example of internal conflict in "The Most Dangerous Game" is when Rainsford is hiding from Zaroff in the trees and almost loses his nerve. He has to remind himself to keep his cool: "I will not lose my nerve. I will not."

Another example of internal conflict in “The Most Dangerous Game” is Zaroff’s boredom. “There is no greater bore than perfection,” he says. Boredom is a conflict Zaroff tries to overcome through his twisted game. Ultimately, it leads to his demise.

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In "The Most Dangerous Game," what internal conflict plagues Zaroff and why do you believe this to be true?

Richard Connell writes in his "The Most Dangerous Game" that for General Zaroff

...hunting had ceased to be what you call 'a sporting proposition.'  It had become too easy.  I always got my quarry.  Always.  There is no greater bore than perfection.

This quest for some other hunt to relieve his boredom seems the only internal conflict for Zaroff.  For, Rainsford's first impression was...that there was an "original, almost bizarre quality about the general's face." So, it seems that Zaroff possesses a sang froid [cold-bloodness] and a single-mindedness that made the external conflicts of the hunt more his concern.  As he tells Rainsford,

[God] He made a hunter....My whole life has been one prolonged hunt....I live for danger, Mr. Rainsford.

During his hunt for Rainsford, Zaroff seems composed and confident, playing a game of cat-and-mouse with Rainsford as he expresses regret that Rainsford cannot join him in the next hunt.  When he does trail Rainsford, the general appears only at lunchtime.  He is "solicitous about the state of Rainsford's health,' and he mentions that he does not feel so well:

I am worried, Mr. Rainsford.  Last night I detected traces of my old complaint....Ennui. Boredom.

This, again, is the same internal conflict.

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