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

The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Edward Connell

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What is a symbol in "The Most Dangerous Game"?

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A symbol in "The Most Dangerous Game" is Ship-Trap Island, representing the dual nature of humankind in that it contains elements of civilization and the wilderness. General Zaroff's palatial mansion surrounded by jungle would appear to be the embodiment of safety and reason, yet his belief that it is no less immoral to hunt humans than it is to hunt animals shows him, along with much of humanity, to be far from "civilized."

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A symbol is a concrete object that stands in as a visual representation of an abstract concept. Ship-Trap Island is the most prominent symbol in "The Most Dangerous Game," representing the dual nature of human beings. On one hand, the island features traces of civilization in General Zaroff's mansion. The mansion is well kept and features several civilized comforts. However, the mansion is surrounded by dangerous wilderness. The jungle is thick. Death Swamp features deadly quicksand. The island itself is surrounded by ship-destroying rocks. So, even though Zaroff has set up a supposedly civilized spot on the island, the terrain is still largely untamed and dangerous.

The island's blend of civilization and wilderness reflects the inner state of the two main characters, Rainsford and Zaroff. Both are men caught between civilization and a more animalistic state. Zaroff is urbane and "sophisticated" yet loves hunting for the thrill of spilling blood in a rather animalistic fashion. Rainsford is presented as a somewhat honorable man, and he is thrust into the same situation as many of the animals he has hunted for prey in the past. When Rainsford finishes the game with Zaroff in the general's own bedroom (essentially taking the game started in the wilderness to the supposedly civil realm of the mansion), the boundary between civilization and the uncivilized becomes blurred.

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What is some symbolism that is produced in "The Most Dangerous Game"?

General Zaroff poses as a civilized man living in civilized surroundings while committing the most uncivilized actions possible toward other humans. His Cossack upbringing is a partial explanation for his behavior. Cossacks were among the fiercest of Russia's soldiers during the 19th and early 20th centuries, known for their excellent horsemanship skills and their loyalty to the Czar. The Cossacks were displaced and dispersed following the overthrow of Czar Nicholas, and this is presumably why Zaroff is now living on his isolated island. He symbolizes both the last of a dying breed of faithful soldier as well as a horrible new breed of killer.

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What is some symbolism that is produced in "The Most Dangerous Game"?

"The Most Dangerous Game" is repleat with animal imagery and hunting symbolism:

I hope the jaguar guns have come from Purdey's.

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...high screaming sound, the sound of an animal in an extremity of anguish and terror.

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a large animal--had thrashed about in the underbrush; the jungle weeds were crushed down and the moss was lacerated;

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About the hall were mounted heads of many animals--lions, tigers, elephants, moose, bears; larger or more perfect specimens Rainsford had never seen.

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...but my real interest was always the hunt. I have hunted every kind of game in every land. It would be impossible for me to tell you how many animals I have killed.

Connell uses animal and hunting symbolism to underscore his survivalist themes and to blur the line between animal and human fear and suffering.  All the characters, Whitney, Rainsford, Zaroff, and Ivan are hunters, and they seem to think humans are not only the best hunters but the best prey.

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What is some symbolism that is produced in "The Most Dangerous Game"?

The color crimson is a subtle detail that appears at least twice in the short story.  First, as Rainsford washes up on shore, he notices the color on the "lacerated" plants.  Next, we are told General Zaroff's sash is crimson.  The color is vibrant, violent, and bold--much like the game itself.

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What are some symbols in "The Most Dangerous Game"?

Given that hunting—whether of humans or of animals—constitutes a major part of the book's action it's not surprising that blood and the color red should be important symbols. They symbolize death, violence, and the warning of dangers to come. It's notable, for instance, that when Rainsford accidentally falls from the yacht into the sea off Ship-Trap Island, the sea is described as "blood warm".

Normally, a warm sea would be inviting, somewhere we'd like to swim. But "blood warm" is a different matter entirely. We sense straight away that this is not a place where anyone would want to spend much time if they had to. Ship-Trap Island is a dark, forbidding place, and the sea surrounding it reinforces this impression.

The reference to the "blood warm" sea also foreshadows what's in store for Rainsford later on as he becomes the prey in General Zaroff's latest hunting expedition. As indeed does the "stained crimson" that Rainsford discovers in the weeds when he finally makes it ashore. Rainsford realizes straight away that this is blood. However, what he doesn't yet know is that it is human, not animal blood, the blood of the last man who lost one of Zaroff's sick little games.

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What is the main symbol of "The Most Dangerous Game"?

The Most Dangerous Game is not a story where symbolism plays an important role so it is difficult to find a specific symbol. One might say that danger could symbolize the story because the setting, plot, and antagonist are all dangerous. One might even say that "game" is a symbol. Game in both senses of the word. First, game int he sense that General Zaroff has created what he believes is more a game with rules than an unfair murderous plot. Second, game in the sense that humans are the most dangerous game because they can think and reason so they are unpredictable because they act on more than animal instinct. 

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