The Most Dangerous Game: Short Story, Summary, Characters, Theme, Plot Analysis

a picture of an eagle about to catch a fish in the ocean

The Most Dangerous Game is a short story written by Richard Connell. Also known as “The Hounds of Zaroff”, this story was originally published in 1924. It revolves around an American man passionate about game hunting who realizes, after a series of events, what it means to be a hunter or a huntee – and the ethicality surrounding it.

“The world is made up of two classes – the hunters and the huntees. Luckily, you and I are hunters”

This is a statement from Sanger Rainsford, the protagonist of Richard Connell’s remarkable short story The Most Dangerous Game. This one statement is intensely significant as it underlines the carelessness we experience as hunters; but once the tables turn, it’s a different story.

The Most Dangerous Game: Summary and Plot Analysis

This story derives inspiration from the big game hunting that was very popular among affluent Americans back in the 1920s.

Rainsford, a big time game hunter from New York is travelling to Rio de Janeiro in a yacht. In a conversation with a fellow passenger Whitney, Rainsford reveals that he believes that the world is only made up of hunter and huntees and prides himself in being a hunter.

While Whitney does show a little remorse about games they kill and wonders if the prey feels fear, Rainsford stands by his indifference to his prey and is prideful about being a hunter and not a huntee.

Noticing the jitteriness of the crew, Whitney wants to sail past the mysterious island as soon as possible. He theorizes that sailors can sense danger and that is because evil “emanates in waves like light and sound”. While Whitney retires for the night, Rainsford stays back on the afterdeck to smoke his pipe.

Three gunshots in the distance make him curious, and after losing balance ends up falling into water. The yacht quickly disappears into the night leaving him stranded in the middle of nowhere.

He decides to swim in the direction where the gunshots came from and finds himself hearing an animal in agony silenced by a pistol shot. Thoroughly exhausted, he falls asleep.

Once awake, he sets off searching for food in the jungle and chances upon a chateau (a large house). He knocks on the door and finds himself face to face with a burly guy named Ivan who is just about to show him the way when another man General Zaroff ushers him in.

Rainsford finds Zaroff very welcoming, having been offered a room and lavish dinner. The general’s dining hall showcases mounted heads and trophies flaunting his prize from his hunting adventures all over the world.

In the conversation that ensues, Rainsford comes to know of general’s childhood in Crimea, his game exploits all over the world and how he feels that game hunting had become progressively more boring for him over the years.

He also goes on to point out that this monotony had recently been alleviated for him since he figured out a new kind of animal to hunt- the one he believes has courage , logic and reasoning.

Rainsford eventually connects the dots and realizes that the general is referring to human beings and is horrified and indignant at Zaroff’s inability to see hunting humans as a murder. He politely declines General’s request to come hunting with him and goes to bed, terribly disturbed.

He meets Zaroff at lunch again and comes to know that the sailors that he lures to the island for hunting do not present enough challenge for him to exercise his hunting skills. He is now excited by the idea of hunting a world renowned game hunter – Rainsford himself!

Baffled and scared by General’s request, Rainsford asks to leave the island, a request that General immediately denies, instead approving his leave in return for a 3 day hunt, with Rainsford being the prey.

On Day 1, General identifies Rainsford’s location easily but chooses not to kill him to prolong the duration of pleasure he derives from the hunt. This leaves Rainsford terribly scared with very little hope to be able to escape the island.

On Day 2 , Rainsford puts up more of a challenge to Zaroff using the Malay mancatcher (a kind of booby trap to catch a human), doing so much as wounding Zaroff, who promises to kill him him the next day.

What happens at the end of the story of The Most Dangerous Game?

On Day 3 – the final day of the hunt – through a series of events, Ivan (General Zaroff’s assistant) is killed and hounds are let loose that push Rainsford to the edge of the cliff. He chooses to jump into the ocean than handle the hounds.

Upon return to his room later that night, Zaroff finds Rainsford concealed behind the curtains. Zaroff congratulates him on winning the game, but he insists that the game is not over yet and that he intends to fight Zaroff. Zaroff accepts his challenge and declares that the loser of the fight will become food to the dogs while the winner will sleep in Zaroff’s bed.

The story concludes with Rainsford saying that the General’s bed was more comfortable than anything that he had ever slept on (which suggests that Rainsford killed General Zaroff).

The Most Dangerous Game Characters

Sanger Rainsford: The protagonist. A world-renowned big game hunter from America. He’s a level-headed, intelligent and experienced man who combines his mental and physical ability to outsmart General Zaroff.

General Zaroff: A Russian expatriate who lives in a big house on an island. He is an accompolished hunter who has lost all interest in hunting animals because it has gotten ‘boring’ over the years. Now he enjoys hunting prey that are smart and have a formidable mental abilities – humans.

Ivan: General Zaroff’s assistant. He is mute and has a formidable physical stature. His stature is so fear-inducing that Zaroff’s captives prefer to flee and give Zaroff a chance to hunt them down than a certain, torturous death at Ivan’s hands.

Whitney: Hunter and Rainsford’s travel companion. Feels a little remorse about killing prey and suggests that the hunted feel fear while Rainsford is completely indifferent to how the prey feels.

The Most Dangerous Game Theme

The main theme of The Most Dangerous Game is fear, competition and perseverance. The author has a done a remarkable job at blurring the line between the hunter and the hunted. He has shown – through the protagonist’s journey through the story – that the one thing the prey always feels, irrespective of who it is, is fear.

In the beginning of the story, Rainsford is shown to be oblivious to the fear of the prey he hunts. In fact, he prides being such an accomplished hunter. But as the tables turn and Rainsford ends up becoming a prey himself, he realizes the nerve-wracking fear of a prey which gives him perspective and a real taste of what’s it like to be the hunted (instead of the hunter).

The story also indulges in the idea of competition. Both General Zaroff and Rainsford are skilled hunters, which is demonstrated at regular intervals in the story. On the first day of the ‘hunting game’, the General effortlessly locates Rainsford but chooses to ‘spare’ him. The subsequent days, Rainsford fights back and ultimately trumps the General.

Furthermore, The Most Dangerous Game is a story of perseverance and survival. The protagonist never gives up despite the challenges that he’s faced with one after the other.

Is The Most Dangerous Game a true story?

The Most Dangerous Game was published back in 1924, around 100 years ago. Till that point, there was no true story or reported case on which the story could have been based.

But decades after its publication, there was a particularly notorious case in Alaska which involved multiple victims hunted by the perpetrator – Robert Hanson.

Known in the media as the ‘Butcher Baker’, Hanson was an American serial killer who was caught and convicted in 1983. He was then sentenced to 461 years and a life sentence without the possibility of parole. He died in 2014. (Source)

The Most Dangerous Game Movie

8 years after the publication of the story, a movie of the same name was released in 1932. The film is based on the same premise of a big game hunter who lives on an island and hunts human prey for sport. The film stars the lead stars of King Kong – Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong, alongwith Joel McCrea and Leslie Banks.

the poster of the movie the most dangerous game
The poster of the movie The Most Dangerous Game

Another movie, The Frozen Ground (2013), is loosely based on the story of The Most Dangerous Game. The film stars Nicolas Cage and John Cusack in lead roles. It tells the story of an American serial killer who abducts and kills female victims to satisfy his sadistic ‘thrill’ of hunting.

The Most Dangerous Game Review

This power packed story line from Richard Connell never ceases to amaze me. It will not be an overstatement for me to say that this book rekindled my faith in short stories.

Not to forget, the ethical dilemma and the amazing quotes the book presents. If I had to pick quotes from the book that stood out the most for me, those would be.

“The world is made up of two classes – the hunters and the huntees. Luckily, you and I are hunters”

And Further in the same conversation…

“Don’t talk rot, Whitney, you’re a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?”

Connell has so brilliantly given an altogether differing spin on the perspective that was used when this line was first said in the story.

The journey from Rainsford being an acclaimed hunter, absolutely indifferent to his prey’s feelings, to him being the hunted – shocked and terrified – is an amazing journey to follow and learn from.

What I really like about this message is its poignance and relevance to our everyday conversations where our own viewpoint is all that we care about.

In my random readings, I have come across this phrase very often: “the world does not revolve around you.”

I guess I need to pause and take notice.


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