The Most Dangerous Game | Study Guide

Richard Connell

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "The Most Dangerous Game Study Guide." Course Hero. 2 Aug. 2019. Web. 8 Aug. 2022. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2019, August 2). The Most Dangerous Game Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved August 8, 2022, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2019)



Course Hero. "The Most Dangerous Game Study Guide." August 2, 2019. Accessed August 8, 2022.


Course Hero, "The Most Dangerous Game Study Guide," August 2, 2019, accessed August 8, 2022,

The Most Dangerous Game | Quotes


The world is made up of two classes—the hunters and the huntees.


At the outset of the story, Rainsford is confident about which "class" he belongs to. As he says to his friend Whitney, "Luckily, you and I are hunters." But soon Rainsford will in fact become a "huntee." Although Rainsford uses the word class, which is usually associated with human social classes, he seems to mean that the two classes are the humans and the animals. "The Most Dangerous Game" is partly the story of how Rainsford fights to be treated as a human being by General Zaroff.


An evil place can, so to speak, broadcast vibrations of evil.


The main action of the story unfolds without any supernatural elements. Rainsford defeats General Zaroff by natural means, using his mind to outwit him. Nonetheless, at the beginning of the story there are suggestions of the supernatural. Good people in the story—Whitney and Captain Nielsen—are naturally horrified by something about the island, without even knowing what it is. Adventure stories make sharp distinctions between good and bad characters. General Zaroff's character is so bad that even the island in some supernatural sense is itself perceived as evil. This helps justify Rainsford's killing of General Zaroff in the end.


He did not recognize the animal that made the sound.


Rainsford is swimming to Ship-Trap Island when he hears a "screaming sound, the sound of an animal in an extremity of anguish and terror." Although he is an experienced hunter, he cannot recognize which animal is making this sound. For readers not already aware of the basic plot twist of "The Most Dangerous Game," this is a big clue: the unidentified animal being hunted is a human. Just moments earlier Rainsford had scoffed at Whitney's notion of hunted animals being able to understand "the fear of pain and the fear of death." Now Rainsford is about to find out what it is like to be hunted.


It's clear that the brute put up a fight.


Rainsford has swum ashore and slept, and now he's exploring the island. He sees evidence of last night's hunt: trampled plants and traces of blood. From these signs he can tell that "the brute put up a fight." The word brute is used ambiguously here. Rainsford is using it to mean an animal. But a "brute" can also be a human being who lacks reason or intelligence, or who displays animal-like characteristics. Rainsford and readers will soon discover General Zaroff considers the human beings he hunts as worth less than many animals. General Zaroff contrasts "thoroughbred" horses and dogs with the working men of different races he hunts—"blacks, Chinese, whites, mongrels"—who he calls "the scum of the earth."


The last shot was when he trailed it here and finished it.


The night before Rainsford landed on Ship-Trap Island, while still aboard the ship, he heard three shots. Then while swimming to shore, he heard the high-pitched scream of what he assumes is an animal, cut off by a pistol shot. Now he reasons that the first three shots were the sound of the hunter firing at and wounding his prey. The final shot must have been when the hunter tracked down the wounded animal and "finished" it.

Not leaving a wounded animal to slowly die is part of the hunting code, which arose in Europe to informally regulate sport hunting. Some readers may realize at this point that the hunted, slaughtered animal was a human being. This leads to a situation of dramatic irony, which occurs when the readers know more than the characters. Readers by now might be aware the "large animal" Rainsford heard dying was a human being. This passage also points to the complicated and contradictory sense of fair play in the hunting code. If the code were truly fair, perhaps animals would not be hunted at all. This is suggested by the story's substitution of human beings in the place of prey animals.


About it all hung an air of unreality.


Rainsford has just arrived at General Zaroff's island château and is standing outside it. He contemplates "the massive door with a leering gargoyle for a knocker." By establishing a mood of "unreality" and adventure fantasy in the setting, author Richard Connell (1893–1949) prepares readers to accept the implausible events to come.


I'm Sanger Rainsford of New York ... I fell off a yacht. I am hungry.


Rainsford is speaking to Ivan, the servant to General Zaroff. Ivan has just opened the door and is pointing a gun at Rainsford. In response, Rainsford asks to be recognized as a human being with a right to hospitality. In mentioning the yacht, he also establishes himself as someone deserving of the hospitality of another rich man, the owner of this château. However, as readers and Rainsford do not yet know, Ivan is deaf and mute (and seems not to read lips). He cannot give Rainsford the recognition he seeks. General Zaroff will also refuse to recognize Rainsford as a human. Instead, General Zaroff treats him like a beast. Only when Rainsford makes clear he is ready to fight to the death in General Zaroff's bedroom does he gain recognition as a human being. He does this by forcing General Zaroff to treat him as an enemy rather than prey.


A simple fellow, but, I'm afraid, like all his race, a bit of a savage.

General Zaroff

General Zaroff is speaking of Ivan, his servant. The "savage" race he refers to is the Cossacks, a people of Russia and the Ukraine. They were renowned in the 19th and 20th centuries for their military service to imperial Russia. Thus the savagery General Zaroff refers to is their violence. However, General Zaroff tells Rainsford he is also a Cossack. This means General Zaroff too is savage, even though he has an air of sophistication.


We will have some capital hunting, you and I.

General Zaroff

When General Zaroff says this to Rainsford, he has not yet revealed he means to hunt Rainsford, or even that he hunts human beings at all. His statement is ambiguous. Certainly he means they'll have some great hunting, since one of the meanings of "capital" as an adjective is "great" or "first-class." But the Latin root of "capital" means "head," and General Zaroff is planning to add more human heads to his collection. Additionally, "capital" also means "involving execution," as in capital punishment. Rainsford does not yet know General Zaroff's hunting involves killing people, but readers are probably beginning to suspect it by this point.


Hunting had ceased to be what you call 'a sporting proposition.'

General Zaroff

General Zaroff is commenting on the way his skill at hunting led to it becoming too easy. "I always got my quarry. Always," he remarks. Since the animals stood no chance, it was no longer "sporting," in the sense of being fair. However, it is not a sense of fairness that leads General Zaroff to become disenchanted with hunting. The ease of it bores him, and even seeking exotic game like jaguars does nothing to assuage his boredom. But General Zaroff does not reject hunting because of this. Instead he seeks out more dangerous prey: human beings.


Hunting? Good God, General Zaroff, what you speak of is murder.


General Zaroff has just revealed to Rainsford that he hunts human beings. The conflict between General Zaroff and Rainsford is about the difference between sanctioned and unsanctioned violence. The tradition of hunting for sport and food means killing animals is permitted. But killing other human beings goes against nearly all ethical systems in civilization except for sanctioned punishment for crime.

However, as a moral indictment of General Zaroff, Rainsford's statement is a little thin. The entertainment value of the story is in watching Rainsford use wit and violence to righteously triumph over the evil General Zaroff. At the end, another entertaining twist comes from Rainsford's replacing General Zaroff as lord of the château. The story is not like a "novel of ideas," a genre of fiction in which characters typically debate ideas with each other and plot is less important than ideas. In "The Most Dangerous Game," the contrast between hunting and murder is important as a basic engine of the plot. Then Connell gives readers still more entertainment in the ambiguity of the act by which the main character, Rainsford, frees himself. Readers cannot be sure, in the end, whether Rainsford has become a murderer just as morally reprehensible as General Zaroff. But this ambiguity, like the debate between Rainsford and General Zaroff, is mainly offered up as entertainment to stay in the reader's mind long after reading the story, a question which may well have no generalized answer.


Life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong.

General Zaroff

Rainsford and General Zaroff are having dinner and discussing General Zaroff's practice of hunting human beings. Rainsford has just refused General Zaroff's invitation to hunt that night. If Rainsford had accepted, they would have hunted another human being, one of the shipwrecked sailors General Zaroff stocks his island with. General Zaroff, still hoping to bring Rainsford around, offers his ideas about hunting humans. Not only is life "to be lived by the strong," according to General Zaroff. Life is also to be "taken by the strong" if necessary.

General Zaroff's ideas are an example of social Darwinism, a theory that human beings compete for domination and survival. Social Darwinism, popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, applies the ideas of English scientist Charles Darwin (1809–82) to human societies. Darwin proposed that living beings evolve by a process called "natural selection." This means living organisms adapt to their environment by selectively reproducing changes in their genetic makeup. So differences in survival or mating success can lead to the best-adapted organisms prevailing over the ill-adapted ones. Social theorists of the 19th and 20th centuries applied this to individual human beings and to human civilizations or human cultures. The strong cultures would outlast or dominate the weak ones. British philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) called this "survival of the fittest."


I expect rather fair sport—a big, strong black. He looks resourceful.

General Zaroff

General Zaroff is describing the sailor he intends to hunt, a hunt Rainsford declines to join. General Zaroff is evidently excited about the prospect of hunting this sailor, whose strength and resourcefulness promise he will be challenging prey. This excitement is expressed in General Zaroff's phrase "rather fair sport," meaning, through understatement, "pretty good hunting." But General Zaroff's words also play on another meaning of "fair," that of being just. General Zaroff's "fair sport" is entirely unfair, since he is better armed and not terrified for his life.


I am worried, Mr. Rainsford. Last night I detected traces of my old complaint.

General Zaroff

General Zaroff's "old complaint" is boredom. He became so good at hunting animals that it was "no longer a sporting proposition." He always caught his prey, and this left him bored. He alleviated his boredom by "invent[ing] a new animal to hunt," the human being. Human beings can reason, so they will make a good match for him, General Zaroff thinks. However, the sailors he lures to his island do not present such a challenge after all. He has never yet lost a game, he tells Rainsford. This means he is in the same situation he was in while hunting nonhuman animals. The sailors don't know about hunting. They are not good strategists, and General Zaroff captures them easily.

Rainsford represents a promising advance. As a world-renowned hunter, he will make an excellent match for General Zaroff's game of "outdoor chess." However, this also shows the unsustainability of General Zaroff's hunger for intelligent human prey. He cannot count on luring world-famous hunters to Ship-Trap Island every day. There is no solution to General Zaroff's "old problem" because General Zaroff is a nihilistic hedonist. He values nothing but pleasure, and pleasure is bound to be emptily repeated until it ceases to be pleasure.


Trust me ... I will give you my word as a gentleman and a sportsman.

General Zaroff

General Zaroff has just explained the rules of the hunt. If Rainsford survives three days, General Zaroff will "cheerfully acknowledge [himself] defeated," and his boat will take Rainsford to the mainland. When Rainsford does not immediately agree to these rules, General Zaroff responds as though the problem were his trustworthiness. He tries to reassure Rainsford that, as "a gentleman and a sportsman," he will keep his word and take him to the mainland if Rainsford wins. But Rainsford objects to being hunted at all; he will not be reassured by knowing General Zaroff means to hunt fairly. What counts as being fair to animal prey, such as letting them go if they're clever at eluding the hunter, is not a fair way to treat other human beings. By being "a gentleman and a sportsman," General Zaroff is also being inhuman.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Most Dangerous Game? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!