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Stories contain characters, settings, and events, but did you know all of those pieces can represent more than simply the literal world? Read this lesson to learn about symbolism in connection to the short story, ”The Most Dangerous Game.”

A Deeper Meaning

Not all things are what they appear to be, and that concept holds true when it comes to literature. Things such as characters, objects, settings and even colors can represent emotions, archetypes and much more. In literature, when something represents something else, we call this symbolism. Let’s take a look at the short story The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell, and analyze the symbols presented and their meaning.

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Characters

  • Whitney- This thoughtful hunter represents our pathos, our ability to feel sympathy or pity for others due to an unfortunate situation.

    Whitney argues that animals feel the fear of pain and death, showing us the other side of hunting, the consequence of killing animals. Whitney symbolizes compassion, sympathy, and our emotional intelligence.

  • Rainsford- Rainsford on the other hand represents logic, the pure reason that removes emotion from the argument. He argues that animals feel nothing and hunting is simply part of evolution. The greater animals win, and therefore there is nothing to feel bad about. Rainsford symbolizes logic and emotional ignorance.

Whitney and Rainsford juxtapose the two ways of thought, emotion versus logic, or more symbolically, the brain and the heart. Their opposition could signify what some call the two sides of the brain. They represent the idea of emotion balanced by reason.

  • General Zaroff- The general represents narcissism.

    He symbolizes a god complex which makes him believe he can do whatever he pleases without question, so much so that he captures people and hunts them for sport without sympathy. Zaroff represents an unapologetic evil and selfish choices.

General Zaroff (as shown in the 1932 movie) symbolizes the evil in the world.
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  • Ivan- Ivan is Zaroff’s servant who follows the general’s orders without question.

    He represents the masses that also follow without question, doing what he is told, even if it means aiding in kidnapping and murder.

Setting and Objects

  • Darkness- Throughout the story, Rainsford and others are subjected to a darkness that is described as ‘black velvet.’ This repeated imagery symbolizes danger, fear, and the unknown.
  • The Yacht- As the story opens, Rainsford and his hunting partner Whitney are on a glorious yacht headed to the Amazon to hunt jaguars. The boat and hunting represent a privileged and wealthy lifestyle which mirrors Rainsford’s elitest attitude.
  • The Island- Like most stories, an island represents isolation, which is true for The Most Dangerous Game, but it also represents Zaroff’s disconnect from the real world.

    The isolation of the island symbolizes Zaroff’s murderous way of life that differs from the rest of the world. This physical separation by water symbolizes his separation from sanity and social norms.

  • Jungle- The island consists of a jungle of trees and vines and other wildlife. It is symbolic of the wild unpredictability of human nature and the chaos Zaroff’s mind creates with his new game that Rainsford must fight through literally and figuratively.

The island jungle reflects the twisted mind of Zaroff and the chaos it causes.
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All of these places symbolize Rainsford’s journey into consciousness, ripping off the veil of privilege from his eyes, journeying into the madness of human nature, and becoming stronger for it. This journey teaches Rainsford to be compassionate and sympathetic.

Lesson Summary

In The Most Dangerous Game, we see how things aren’t what they appear to be. Yes, a hunter gets trapped on an island with an insane general and has to fight his way out, but his journey is symbolic of much more.

Rainsford represents logic which is juxtaposed with his hunting partner Whitney who represents emotion or pathos. Together, they remind us that balance is key. The negation of balance is shown in the character General Zaroff who symbolizes narcissistic behaviors and selfish motives. The setting is also symbolic, representing concepts such as isolation, privilege and chaos, all of which represent the unpredictability of human nature.

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