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Suspense in The Most Dangerous Game

Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

''The Most Dangerous Game'' by Richard Connell is a timeless story of suspense and danger enjoyed by many students for its fast pace and surprise ending. This lesson explores how the author develops suspense in the narrative.

Setting the Scene

What makes a story a 'page-turner'? It's the literary device of suspense, or the building of intensity while the reader waits to discover the outcome of the story's events. The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell is a classic story filled with suspense. Let's take a look at how the author builds the suspense in the story.

The story begins as big game hunter Sanger Rainsford is chatting about hunting with his friend Whitney onboard a yacht. It is night, and Whitney tells Rainsford about a mysterious island nearby where passing ships are sometimes lost. Rainsford decides to remain on deck alone for a while, and, hearing shots coming from the mysterious island, he climbs a railing for a better look and suddenly falls overboard. The yacht moves on without him and Rainsford has no choice but to swim to the island and take his chances.

The conversation with Whitney helps prepare the reader for what happens later. Yet the author intends for you to almost ignore this initial chat, because you are waiting for something more to happen. Connell makes the reader wait for even the first small plot twist that begins the suspense: Rainsford stranded on the island.

General Zaroff

As Rainsford begins to explore the island, suspense builds. Who will he find? Because he heard gun shots the night before, he expects there are hunters on the island; indeed, the first human evidence he encounters is a gun shell and the print of hunting boots. He remarks that the animal must have been a large one, but this bit of foreshadowing is generally overlooked by the average reader.

Then Rainsford spots the chateau. He makes his way there, and is greeted silently by the owner's assistant Ivan, and then by the owner, General Zaroff. The General is a veteran big game hunter himself, and is well-aware of Rainsford's reputation. He seems delighted to welcome his guest, and they discuss hunting over a sumptuous meal.

Welcoming Meal
dining table

As the two hunters discuss the types of game they have encountered, both Rainsford and the reader get an uneasy feeling that this General Zaroff is up to something dreadful. When he says that he wants his game to be a reasoning being, that is the first hint that Zaroff hunts human prey. The older man adds to the suspense by speaking of his training school for sailors stranded on the island, and by bragging about the fine pack of dogs he has for bringing down prey. Even though it is dark, Rainsford can still see the shadowy shapes of the huge dogs in the courtyard. If you have ever been chased by a large dog, you can imagine how this sight adds to the man's uneasiness.

Dog for the Hunt
the pack of dogs

The Hunt Begins

Rainsford then excuses himself and goes to spend a restless night in the chateau's guest quarters. Sometime near morning, he hears a pistol shot from the far side of the island. When he arises and goes downstairs, Zaroff fails to appear until luncheon. The suspense is too much for Rainsford at this point, and he asks to leave the island immediately. At this point, the suspense built around the nature of Zaroff's hunting ends. Rainsford, and the reader, both now know that in tonight's hunt Rainsford will be the hunted. He is turned out of the chateau gates and given a few hours head start before the General begins at nightfall. Only if Rainsford can survive for three days will Zaroff set him free.

Shift in Focus

From this point forward, the suspense for the reader takes a different turn. We want Rainsford to either win or escape, although both outcomes seem impossible. But Rainsford is an experienced hunter and a veteran soldier as well. He proves a tricky prey for Zaroff. Suspense builds as we follow Rainsford's attempts to outwit his hunter. Once, he climbs a tree, and Zaroff stops to look around, lighting a cigarette and inspecting the area.

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