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The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Edward Connell

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What was Rainsford's initial attitude towards hunting in "The Most Dangerous Game"?

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At the beginning of the story, Rainsford's attitude is fairly cold toward the animals that he hunts.

Rainsford loves hunting, and he feels no sympathy for the animals that he hunts and kills. While Rainsford and Whitney are both on the boat, Whitney states that he believes that the jaguars that they are about to hunt have feelings. Rainsford dismisses the idea as nonsense, but Whitney persists that at the very least the animals must know fear.  

"Even so, I rather think they understand one thing -- fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death."

Rainsford again responds by saying that the concept of animals having feelings is nonsense.

"Nonsense," laughed Rainsford. "This hot weather is making you soft, Whitney. Be a realist. The world is made up of two classes--the hunters and the huntees. Luckily, you and I are hunters."

Rainsford, as a hunter, doesn't even consider how his actions might make his prey feel. But once Rainsford becomes Zaroff's prey, Rainsford realizes exactly how all of the animals that he previously hunted most likely felt.

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In Rainsford's conversation with Whitney while they are on the yacht bound for South America where they plan to hunt jaguars, the question arises about whether animals experience fear. Whitney contends they do, expressing some sympathy for the prey they hunt. Rainsford, on the other hand, disparages that view, declaring, "Who cares how a jaguar feels?" He enjoys hunting and he feels little if any concern about the animals. "The world is divided into two classes--the hunters and the huntees," he says. "Luckily you and I are the hunters."

Later, of course, when Rainsford becomes the hunted, his attitude changes. When he discovers "how an animal at bay feels," it's clear he's had a moment of revelation.

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In "The Most Dangerous Game," what do Rainsford's initial feelings on hunting show about his character?

Before his experience on the island, Rainsford's character is that of a typical big-game hunter, with no empathy for the prey. He has no need to empathize with the prey, since he is an intelligent man and the animals are not intelligent, or at least not intelligent enough for him to consider them sympathetic equals. Rainsford's ideas on hunting are shown in his conversation with Whitney on the boat:

"The best sport in the world," agreed Rainsford.
"For the hunter," amended Whitney. "Not for the jaguar."
"Don't talk rot, Whitney," said Rainsford. "You're a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?" (Connell, "The Most Dangerous Game," classicreader.com)

Of course, Rainsford soon finds out exactly how a jaguar feels, although he is intelligent enough to know what the outcome is, not simply the fear of an animal. Even before this, his character equates humans as superior to animals, and is shocked at the idea that humans could hunt other humans for sport, much less rationalize it at a moral level, as does General Zaroff. Rainsford's feelings on hunting are drastically altered by the end of the story; he discovers that being hunted is not as much fun as hunting.

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At the beginning of "The Most Dangerous Game," did Rainsford have any feeling for the animals he hunted, and how did his experience change his feelings?

It is clear from his discussion with Whitney at the beginning of "The Most Dangerous Game" that Rainsford has no sympathy for the animals he kills. Both of the men agree that hunting is "the best sport in the world." But Whitney is quick to add,

     "For the hunter...  "Not for the jaguar."
     "Don't talk rot, Whitney," said Rainsford. "You're a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?"

Rainsford claims that animals have "no understanding." But Whitney disagrees.

     "Even so, I rather think they understand one thing--fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death."
     "Nonsense," laughed Rainsford. "This hot weather is making you soft, Whitney. Be a realist. The world is made up of two classes--the hunters and the huntees. Luckily, you and I are hunters."

But after Rainsford becomes the prey himself while being hunted by General Zaroff, he discovers a fear that only the hunted can feel. He repeatedly reminds himself to keep his nerve. He becomes tired and "leg-weary." When Zaroff allows Rainsford to escape for another day's hunt, recognized that

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. 

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What is Rainsford's attitude towards the hunter and the hunted in "The Most Dangerous Game"?

Rainsford's attitude toward the hunter and the hunted changes as the narrative develops.

In the exposition of "The Most Dangerous Game," as they travel through the "moonless Caribbean night," Rainsford talks with his friend Whitney with whom he intends to hunt jaguar. Whitney muses on how the jaguar must feel when it, a predator, finds itself hunted. Rainsford dismisses Whitney's sympathy for the jaguar, "Bah! They've no understanding." But Whitney maintains that surely the animal understands the fear of death.

"Nonsense," laughed Rainsford. "....Be a realist. The world is made up of two classes--the hunters and the huntees. Luckily, you and I are hunters...."

Of course, the irony of this statement is that Rainsford himself later becomes a predator-turned-prey just as the jaguar does. Moreover, he learns the error of his declaration to Whitney that prey do not understand the threat of death because he later declares to Zaroff in their final confrontation, "I am still a beast at bay." Clearly, Rainsford has changed his opinion on the feelings of the hunted as he has learned how an animal at bay feels since he has been pursued by a predator and must fearfully hide in a tree. Furthermore, he later must flee pursuing hounds, and in order to escape, he risks a dangerous leap far out into the sea as the only hope of saving himself.

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