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SUMMARY: “THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME”
The short story “The Most Dangerous Game” was written by Richard Connell in 1924 and has since become a worldwide best-seller. Human life’s intrinsic value is called into question in this classic tale that also examines the morality of man, as well as the conflict between instinct and reason.
It has spawned numerous adaptations and other works of fiction, ranging from poetry and novels to films and television series, all of which have been influenced by it.
A game hunter known as Sanger Rainsford is aboard a yacht in the Amazon as he sets out to hunt the region’s largest cat, the jaguar. On a night, Rainsford and his friend Whitney stand on the ship deck and talk about the superstitions that sailors have about Ship-Trap Island, a mysterious Caribbean island that they pass by.
They also talk about their upcoming hunt, which they see as an opportunity to reflect on the impact humans have on the animal kingdom and the feelings of the hunted. They both agree that they are fortunate to be the hunters rather than the prey.
As the boat passes the island shore, Rainsford hears gunshots, and as he moves closer to investigate, he falls into the water. Awakened from his deep sleep, he sets out for home, realizing that he can no longer swim back to the boat.
He takes in the jungle landscape as he wakes up, which is rough and wild. He notices bloodied leaves and an empty.22 caliber cartridge as he picks his way along the shore. That a small-caliber round was used against what appears to be a large animal based on the evidence puzzles him. Rainsford discovers a large chateau perched atop a bluff after following boot prints.
Ivan, a large, black-bearded man with a revolver, greets Rainsford at the door. Soon after, he meets the chateau’s owner General Zaroff, who tells him that Ivan is deaf and unable to communicate. Upon learning of Rainsford’s plight, Zaroff provides him with a large meal and a place to sleep.
Zaroff and Rainsford engage in a lengthy discussion about hunting and animals over a sumptuous meal. While hosting guests, Zaroff reveals that he had grown tired of hunting because it no longer presented him with the intellectual challenges it once did.
There is new and more dangerous prey for him to hunt: the sailors whose ships crash into the island. He provides them with food, rest, and survival training before sending them into the jungle with some supplies and provisions. After that, the hunt begins. For the record, none of Zaroff’s previous victims have made it through the first three days without being killed by the serial killer.
Rainsford is stunned and declines Zaroff’s offer to go hunting with him that night. As a result, Zaroff’s obsession with Rainsford keeps him awake at night. At first light, he hears a pistol shot and realizes that Zaroff has shot and killed the man he was hunting.
That afternoon, Rainsford learns that Zaroff will begin hunting him three hours earlier than usual. Zaroff promises to take Rainsford to the mainland if he hasn’t killed him by midnight on the third day.
On the first day, Rainsford confuses Zaroff by leading him down a path that eventually leads to a tree, where he hides. Despite Zaroff finding him quickly, he mocks him by smoking a cigarette at the base of a tree and deliberately allowing him to escape to prolong the hunt.
After that, the general returns to his quarters to rest up for the upcoming battle. On day two, Rainsford fashions a “man-catcher” trap, which Zaroff triggers as he steps on it unknowingly, getting hit in the shoulder and going home injured to rest for the final day.
He is pleased with Rainsford’s ingenuity and again chooses to spare Rainsford’s life to keep the hunt going. Zaroff brings his hunting dogs on the third day. Rainsford demonstrates his cunning and ingenuity by setting up two more traps, the first of which kills one of Zaroff’s dogs and the second of which kills Ivan.
Rainsford leaps from a cliff into the ocean as the chase heats up. According to Zaroff’s findings, Rainsford has died. That Rainsford would end the game by taking his own life upsets him.
Rainsford is waiting for the general when he returns home and enters his bedroom, locking the door behind him. After swimming to the other side of the island, Rainsford sneaked into Zaroff’s chateau and climbed up to his bedroom.
Rainsford has impressed Zaroff, who declares that he has won the game. Rainsford, on the other hand, isn’t going down without a fight. There is a strong implication that Rainsford has killed Zaroff when the story ends with the line, “He’d never slept in a better bed, Rainsford decided.”