The Most Dangerous Game: Internal & External Conflict

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  • 0:03 The Meeting of the Hunters
  • 1:20 The Hunt
  • 3:11 Final Decision
  • 3:50 The Surprise Ending
  • 4:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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 classic short story 'The Most Dangerous Game' illustrates two types of conflict: internal and external. The external conflict is the fight between General Zaroff and his captive Rainsford. The internal conflict is Rainsford's recognition that there is a fine line between the hunter and the hunted.

The Meeting of the Hunters

The plot of Richard Connel's story, 'The Most Dangerous Game' is fairly simple. Experienced big game hunter Rainsford is stranded on the private island of the eccentric General Zaroff. Zaroff initially welcomes his unexpected guest and hosts a sumptuous meal for Rainsford. Over dinner, the two discuss their mutual love of hunting.

Rainsford seems to view his animal victims as only animals, who have no fear or panic reaction to being hunted. This opinion is soon to come back to haunt him. At the end of their elegant meal, Zaroff reveals that he has solved the problem of boredom with traditional game by hunting human men. Though Rainsford is shocked, he has a spark of understanding that a savvy, intelligent prey would be fascinating. Unfortunately, in this case, Rainsford himself will be the prey.

The game here is that Zaroff has three days to bring Rainsford down. If Rainsford can elude the hunter for that amount of time, he will be set free. From the tone of the conversation, it's clear that Zaroff has complete confidence that he will be the victor in this contest. The general also has the assistance of his servant Ivan and a pack of large, aggressive dogs. Rainsford will have to use all of his skill and remain calm if he is to have any chance of surviving.

The Hunt

Of course, the more obvious conflict in the story is the straightforward, man-versus-man conflict. This is the story's external conflict, or conflict between two characters or a character and an outside opposing force. In this case, the conflict is between Zaroff and his minions against the lone Rainsford. As the story comes to the exposition of this conflict, the reader knows what to expect: a frantic game of chase like any animal hunted by a human. Rainsford is a worthy opponent, just as Zaroff desired. Man, as Zaroff's hunted, brings something to the game in a particular way that animals do not. Humans can reason, which means human beings can make a considered decision based on prior knowledge and likely outcome. Even the most intelligent of game animals falls short for the demented and jaded Zaroff.

As Rainsford uses every skill and clever idea at his disposal, he has some success in avoiding capture. Yet, even when he escapes, hints like Zaroff's wafting cigarette smoke beneath his hiding place remind the prey that he is nothing more than a hunted animal. It's here that internal conflict begins to surface in the narrative. Internal conflict is a struggle within a character's mind. In this case, Rainsford questions his previously held beliefs about hunting and is now in a man against himself conflict. As the hunted, Zaroff's game does not seem so sporting to the terrified Rainsford.

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