The Most Dangerous Game: Characters & Analysis

The Most Dangerous Game: Characters & Analysis
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  • 0:05 Plot of 'The Most…
  • 1:28 The Characters
  • 2:47 Fearful Instincts: An Analysis
  • 5:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

Adapted numerous times for radio and television, this 1924 short story by Richard Connell presents a terrifying look at human nature. In this lesson, you'll meet the characters and explore the positions they play in 'The Most Dangerous Game.'

Plot of 'The Most Dangerous Game'

While en route to a hunting trip in the Amazon, a famous hunter named Rainsford is warned about an island that his vessel appears to be passing near. Later that night, he loses his balance and falls overboard. Rainsford eventually finds his way to shore and awakens the next morning on the border of a jungle. Much to his surprise, he follows paths through the foliage to a palatial estate.

Once there, he discovers that the chateau—the entire island in fact—is owned by the wealthy General Zaroff, himself a hunter and admirer of Rainsford's work. Over the course of the evening, Rainsford learns the sobering truth about Zaroff's island and his purpose there. The general has grown bored with every other quarry he's tracked, so he has taken to stranding passersby on the island to hunt them for sport. If Zaroff's victims survive three days of the hunt, he permits them to go. However, no one has ever lived that long.

Refusing to join Zaroff on his next expedition, Rainsford is nonetheless ejected into the jungle to become fresh prey. By using his own hunting skills, he evades capture and even deals his own blows to Zaroff and his pack of vicious hounds. Finally, Rainsford seems to have been cornered when he notices a clearing toward the sea where he dives in. Later, a disappointed Zaroff returns home, only to find that Rainsford is waiting for his revenge in the general's bedroom.

The Characters

Sanger Rainsford is a celebrated American hunter and the story's protagonist. He has apparently written several books on the sport of hunting and in the beginning views the pastime as just that. As a hunter, Rainsford has obviously cultivated a certain indifference to the death of animals. However, having served in France during presumably the First World War, he also seems to have a very different sentiment toward human life. Luckily for Rainsford, he is a resourceful individual whose mind is highly adaptable, allowing him not only to survive the game, but to come out the victor.

General Zaroff was once a Cossack during the Bolshevik uprising and is the antagonist of 'The Most Dangerous Game.' A defender of the Russian aristocracy, Zaroff is himself quite a wealthy man. Following the defeat of the Cossacks, Zaroff left Russia to pursue his boyhood passion for hunting. He quickly became bored with the normal quarry, however, and resolved to hunt the only game that could challenge him: humans. Zaroff is not arrogant but eerily self-assured in his abilities as a stalker of prey. His estate and demeanor are firmly grounded in the concept of affluent nobility, which he appears to maintain as a symbol of civilization. He sees no difference in the value of human or other life and covets his fellow hunter Rainsford as his most prized trophy.

Fearful Instincts: An Analysis

Have you ever been so scared that the only thought in your brain is to run? A biologist would consider this part of the fight-or-flight response, an innately hardwired reaction to perceived physical danger. Psychologists would take that a step further and say that, in humans, that instinct is most often interpreted as the emotion of fear. These distinctions that humans have made between our experiences and those of other animals become very blurred in 'The Most Dangerous Game.'

At the opening of Connell's short story, Rainsford is firmly of the opinion that the animals he hunts have no understanding. In his mind, this means they have no capacity to relate to the emotions that being preyed upon would naturally elicit. Therefore, he sees no ethical problems in ending their lives; in fact, he even considers this their purpose for humanity's amusement.

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