Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1341
Essential Passage 1
...He was finding the general a most thoughtful and affable host, a true cosmopolite. 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.
Off the coast of Brazil, Sanger Rainsford (a hunter from America bound for the Amazon) falls off his yacht after hearing screams from a distant island. Finally reaching shore, he struggles through the dense forest to find a tall, gloomy castle built on a cliff above the bay. Knocking on the door, he is met by the largest man he has ever seen. This giant, named Ivan, leads Rainsford into the castle where he is introduced to the master, General Zaroff. Dressed tastefully, General Zaroff is not the kind of person Rainsford expected to find on a deserted island. Zaroff shows him to a richly furnished room where the American is given dry clothes. Rainsford then joins Zaroff in the dining room, which displays a rich variety of food and drink. As they visit, Rainsford is impressed with the sophistication of his host. However, he does not like the way that Zaroff is constantly and intently observing him: Rainsford feels as if he is being appraised for worthiness. That is the only aspect of his host Rainsford finds troubling.
Essential Passage 2
“Tonight,” said the general, “we will hunt—you and I.”
Rainsford shook his head. “No, general,” he said. “I will not hunt.”
The general shrugged his shoulders and delicately ate a hothouse grape. “As you wish, my friend,” he said. “The choice rests entirely with you. But may I not venture to suggest that you will find my idea of sport more diverting than Ivan’s?”
He nodded toward the corner to where the giant stood, scowling, his thick arms crossed on his hogshead of chest.
“You don’t mean—,” cried Rainsford.
“My dear fellow,” said the general, “have I not told you I always mean what I say about hunting? This is really an inspiration. I drink to a foeman worthy of my steel—at last.” The general raises his glass, but Rainsford sat staring at him.
“You’ll find this game worth playing,” the general said enthusiastically. “Your brain against mine. Your woodcraft against mine. Your strength and stamina against mine. Outdoor chess! And the stake is not without value, eh?”
General Zaroff explains to Rainsford his love for the hunt. Having chased game all over the world, Zaroff had come to South America in hopes of finding sport hunting the jaguar. Alas, it was not as challenging as he had hoped, and he became bored. He discovered that the most exciting challenge is hunting “the most dangerous game”—human beings. From local natives to stranded individuals, Zaroff has given each “prey” three days in which to survive. When Rainsford expresses his horror, asking whether the prey has any choice, Zaroff explains that they may choose not to participate, at which point they are turned over to the giant Ivan (obviously to be tortured until death). Zaroff tells Rainsford that, so far, no human prey has survived the three days. He invites Rainsford to join him the next day on such a hunt. Rainsford refuses. Zaroff points out that the choice is indeed his, but Rainsford might consider Zaroff’s game more “entertaining” than Ivan’s. Rainsford then understands that he is no longer a guest but prey in Zaroff’s game.
Essential Passage 3
The job was finished at last, and he threw himself down behind a fallen log a hundred feet away. He did not have to wait long. The cat was coming again to play with the mouse.
Following the trail with the sureness of a bloodhound came General Zaroff. Nothing escaped those searching black eyes, no crushed blade of grass, no bent twig, no mark, no matter how faint, in the moss. So intent was the Cossack on his stalking that he was upon the thing Rainsford had made before he saw it. His foot touched the protruding bough that was the trigger. Even as he touched it, the general sensed his danger and leaped back with the agility of an ape. But he was not quite quick enough; the dead tree, delicately adjusted to rest on the cut living one, crashed down and struck the general a glancing blow on the shoulder as it fell; but for his alertness, he must have been smashed beneath it. He staggered, but he did not fall; nor did he drop his revolver. He stood there, rubbing his injured shoulder, and Rainsford, with fear again gripping his heart, heard the general’s mocking laugh ring through the jungle.
“Rainsford,” called the general, “if you are within sound of my voice, as I suppose you are, let me congratulate you. Not many men know how to make a Malay mancatcher. Luckily for me I, too, have hunted in Malacca. You are proving interesting, Mr. Rainsford. I am going now to have my wound dressed; it’s only a slight one. But I shall be back. I shall be back.”
Rainsford struggles to survive three days in the jungle with Zaroff on the hunt. His first attempt to evade capture is to climb a tree. Although Zaroff tracks him there, he stops, smiles, and leaves. Rainsford realizes that Zaroff intends to play “cat and mouse,” letting his prey survive as long as possible before catching and killing him. Next, Rainsford devises a trap, one in which a log will fall on Zaroff should he touch a “trigger” made from a bent-over tree. Although Zaroff suffers a bruised shoulder from the trap, he survives. He announces to Rainsford that he will return after his shoulder is treated. Rainsford follows this attempt by creating another trap: a pit fashioned with sharp spikes. This proves to catch only Zaroff’s dog. Rainsford's last attempt is to tie his knife to a tree limb held back by a grapevine. Zaroff again escapes, but Ivan is killed by the knife. All else having failed, Rainsford dives over the side of the cliff into the bay.
Analysis of Essential Passages
Sanger Rainsford presents himself as a mighty hunter intent on traveling the world in search of big game. He is a man of intelligence and cool reason, but he is also unimaginative and unemotional. He is able to focus only on one issue at a time. He has difficulty accepting anything that does not fit in with his preconceived notion of reality. He is, in fact, a copy of General Zaroff.
On his voyage to South America, Rainsford converses with his companion, Whitney, who wonders how the prey feel about being hunted. Rainsford states that, as prey, they have no feelings whatsoever. Whitney disagrees, believing that at the very least they feel fear. This conversation foreshadows Rainsford's finding himself as prey, and he most definitely feels fear.
In his first encounter with General Zaroff at dinner, Rainsford is disturbed at being so closely observed. Zaroff is sizing him up, and Rainsford knows it, but for what purpose he is as yet unaware. Ultimately he discovers that his intelligence, reason, and ability to focus make him the perfect challenge that Zaroff has been seeking.
When Rainsford discovers that he himself is now the prey of Zaroff, he immediately reacts out of fear, exactly as Whitney had posited prey would do. At first, Rainsford runs with only the thought of outdistancing Zaroff in order to survive. However, he eventually realizes that in such a hunt mere escape is not enough: he realizes that he must destroy General Zaroff. Because he understands that this is more of a cat-and-mouse game than a common hunt, he must use his intelligence, something that he believes is given to humans but not to animals, in order to overcome his adversary. The crude traps he sets for Zaroff show him as one who is also intent on killing, not just on escaping being killed.