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The Most Dangerous Game: Summary and Themes

The Most Dangerous Game: Summary and Themes
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  • 0:01 Dangerous Games
  • 0:30 Summary: The Hunt Begins
  • 2:20 Summary: Three Days in…
  • 4:42 Major Themes
  • 6:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

Adventure stories hook the reader with fast-paced tales of danger. In this lesson, you'll learn more about a classic adventure story involving a ruthless hunter and the deadly island where he lives.

Dangerous Games

Take a moment to imagine a story. The story has a hero, caught on an island full of deadly traps. On this island, people hunt each other down for the amusement of the owner of the island, who offers up a great prize to anyone who can survive. Did you picture a blockbuster movie with an arrow-slinging main character? Movies like The Hunger Games borrow heavily from an adventure story published in 1924, Richard Connell's 'The Most Dangerous Game'.

Summary: The Hunt Begins

Our story begins with our main character, Sanger Rainsford, standing on a boat's deck late at night talking with Whitney, a fellow passenger. Rainsford, an accomplished big game hunter, is looking forward to tracking the cunning jaguars in the Amazon and says that this will be the '...best sport in the world.' Whitney counters that it's 'great sport for the hunter, '...not for the jaguar.' Whitney goes on to argue that animals do have some sense of understanding, even if it's just enough intelligence to fear pain and death.

Rainsford has zero sympathy for his prey, and in an ironic moment, he drops his pipe, gets accidentally knocked from the boat and ends up on the infamous Ship Trap Island, where sailors sometimes go but never return. He eventually finds civilization on the island, a mansion, and he meets its owner, General Zaroff, along with his servant Ivan.

Ivan is a hulking Russian thug; imagine a deaf-mute Andre the Giant with a beard. Zaroff, though, is worse. He was once a Russian military leader from an aristocratic family. Zaroff invested his money well, and when the communists took over, Zaroff beat it to his private island where he could indulge his passion for hunting.

If you couldn't tell the guy is a villain, his beady black eyes and the fact that he has filed his teeth to sharp points should clue you in. Zaroff grew bored with hunting animals - not challenging enough - so he switched to hunting people. And even that has grown dull, until our master hunter Sanger Rainsford washes up on the shore! Now, Zaroff is giddy to kill someone who is almost as smart, clever and skilled as he is.

Summary: Three Days in the Jungle

Day One

Zaroff offers Rainsford a simple deal - survive three days in the jungle, and he'll let Rainsford leave. Easy enough, right? Rainsford is the Survivorman of the 1920s. Zaroff gives him some basic supplies, including a knife, and then gives Rainsford a head start. Rainsford cuts a tricky path through the jungle, using all of his skill, and creates several false trails that should fool Zaroff.

Then Rainsford hides in a tree, prepared to wait out the three days, but he's not there long before he hears someone approaching. It's the evil general who walks up to Rainsford's tree, stands under it while lighting his cigarette and who then neatly blows a smoke ring in Rainsford's direction. The message is clear - Zaroff is way better at this deadly game of hide-and-seek than Rainsford.

Day Two

On the second day, Rainsford has to step up his game, and he does by building a trap to kill Zaroff. When the villain tracks him down, Rainsford springs the trap, but only wounds his enemy. The general retreats to his mansion and leaves Rainsford to plan for the final day of the hunt.

Day Three

Rainsford continues to work his traps, and he needs to because Zaroff and Ivan have brought a pack of hunting dogs for the final day. The first trap, a pit lined with spikes, gets rid of a dog, while the second trap that involves a knife tied to a tree branch kills Ivan. Now Zaroff is out for blood, and he chases Rainsford to a cliff overlooking the rocky shore of the island. Rather than face being torn apart by dogs, Rainsford dives off the cliff, and Zaroff returns home feeling a little cheated of his victory.

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