General Zaroff’s overconfidence and his underestimation of Rainsford prove fatal in Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game”. When the hunter becomes the hunted, Rainsford’s opinion of murder changes. He becomes determined to survive. There are several times in the story when survival becomes murder. The attempts from Rainsford to survive are cold, calculated killing. In the beginning of “The Most Dangerous Game”, Rainsford is an avid hunter, feeling man is superior to animals, that his prey has no feelings, and that hunting in general is just a game. He thinks that the world is divided between the hunter and the hunted. Rainsford is an American hunter of world renown, and is immediately recognized by General Zaroff as an author of a book on hunting Snow Leopards in Tibet. (Connell, 7) While they both share an interest in hunting, Rainsford believes Zaroff’s newly defined sport to be brutal and Zaroff himself to be a murderer in the beginning of the story. Even with his service in the military, he is unable to consider what Zaroff is doing to be anything more than “cold blooded murder”.
Rainsford’s opinion starts to change when he learns Zaroff intends to use him as prey. “Hunting? Great Guns, General Zaroff, what you speak of is murder” he stated to the General in disbelief. (Connell, 11) As the hunt progresses, Rainsford is constantly reminding himself to keep his “nerve” because he does not want to participate in this game, proving that to kill a man for sport is not in his character. (Connell, 17) While he is trying to run away from his capture and become undetected, it is then that he realizes the abilities of General Zaroff to track and hunt are fair beyond his initial observation. Rainsford is terrified to find he has been outwitted by Zaroff when he finds him in the tree, but allows him to live as if this were a game of cat and mouse. This was the point where Rainsford begins his transformation into a calm and collected killer.
Rainsford is no longer making trails and trying to be undetected by the General, he is boldly becoming aware that he has to kill or be killed. Rainsford’s character evolves after the first night in the jungle. He becomes a calculated killer using his skills that he learned in the military and hunting escapades to capture his prey. Rainsford sets three traps for General Zaroff. Rainsford’s first trap is a Maylay man-catcher. He sets up a dead tree so that it will fall and hit Zaroff. Zaroff, however, sees the tree and manages to dodge it, receiving only a shoulder wound. When Zaroff goes to get his wound attended to, Rainsford flees and finds himself on the part of the island that has quicksand. He quickly digs a pit a few feet from the quicksand and puts sharpened sticks in the bottom. He then covers the pit with “a rough carpet of weeds and branches.” (Connell, 19) This Burmese tiger pit is effective because it kills one of Zaroff’s best dogs.
The third trap Rainsford makes quickly because Zaroff is not far behind him. He ties his knife to a sapling. He ties the sapling back with some vine. This trap is also effective because when it is triggered, it hits and kills Ivan, Zaroff’s servant. These traps were all intended to kill or maim General Zaroff proving that Rainsford had a high regard for his own life, but not anyone else. His last and final act of meeting Zaroff in his bedroom brings the story to and end when the reader learns that Rainsford is going to finish the game by murdering Zaroff even after he has “won the game”. His intent was to end Zaroff’s life, as he had with so many other ‘animals’ over his decades of hunting. On the other hand, some may believe that Rainsford was not a killer at all, but is only doing what he was forced into by General Zaroff.
This opinion makes him innocent because his actions were technically self-defense against a true killer. Rainsford calmly handles any challenge, whether it is falling overboard in the middle of the night or having to swim several miles to reach the shore. He’s survived near-death experiences, from fighting during World War I to hunting dangerous animals in some of the world’s most exotic areas. All these experiences and his demeanor, could be an argument that Rainsford was the same person from beginning to end, he was just adapting to the situation.
To certain extent, someone of this opinion would be correct. It is uncertain what any of us would do if put in a similar situation. Taking someone’s life is wrong. Our society has court systems that assist us in deciding blame and fault. We have to value human life of ourselves and of others. One can only guess or assume what they would do in this situation. Trying other options such as subduing General Zaroff or capturing him would have proven Rainsford less of a killer and more of a strategic hunter.
Connell, Richard. “The Most Dangerous Game”. Feedbooks, 1924Rainsford is an American hunter of world renown, and is immediately recognized by General Zaroff as the author of a book on hunting snow leopards in Tibet. While he shares both an interest in hunting and a refined nature with Zaroff, Rainsford believes Zaroff’s sport to be brutal and Zaroff himself to be a murderer.