Zaroff's Loss of Morality and Humanity in Connell's The Most Dangerous Game

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In Richard Connell’s short story “The Most Dangerous Game”, a sophisticated, expert hunter, Zaroff, has grown bored with traditional hunting. Instead hunts humans on his private island for a more challenging game. The story revolves around another expert hunter named Rainsford who fell of his own ship and swam to Zaroff’s island making him the prey of Zaroff’s twisted game of murder. While on the island Zaroff’s victims are raised to be tougher competition for him, but they all end up dead in several hours. Based on the definition of civilized by The American Heritage Dictionary, civilized means to show advancement in being humane, moral, and ethical. Zaroff does not show any of these qualities therefore I believe, Zaroff is not civilized.

Some may argue that Zaroff is polite and mannerly which shows him as being civilized. I maintain that no cultured and developed person would be so barbarous as to murder other human beings for sport. Since Zaroff demonstrates the antonyms of civilized, this shows that Zaroff is not civilized, The Power Thesaurus states that several antonyms for civilized are cruel, inhumane, and barbaric.

The Oxford Dictionary defines cruelty as “Willfully causing pain or suffering to others, or feeling no concern about in”. Zaroff shows cruelty by the fact that he is keeping innocent civilians against their will and puts them in a position where they will have to fight for their lives all while lounging in his mansion and then nonchalantly going out to hunt his prisoners down. “‘Hunting? Great Guns, General Zaroff, what you speak of is murder.’ The general laughed with entire good nature” (Connel 8). This quote shows the cruelty of Zaroff as he causally speaks about his murder plans to Rainsford.

Another characteristic that Zaroff shows is barbarism. The Oxford Dictionary explains this by saying that barbaric is something that is “savagely cruel; exceedingly brutal.” Zaroff shows barbarism by taunting his captives with the possibility of freedom until he is satisfied with their ability to be a hard target. ‘Suppose he refuses to be hunted?’ “‘Oh,’ said the general, ‘I give him his option, of course. He need not play that game if he doesn’t wish to. If he does not wish to hunt, I turn him over to Ivan.’…’and he has his own ideas of sport. Invariably, Mr. Rainsford, invariably they choose the hunt’’ (Connel 9). This quote exhibits Zaroff’s barbarism in giving his captives two options that almost inevitably end in their death.

The Cambridge Dictionary says that being “cruel to people … is not caring about their suffering” is inhumane. Some ways Zaroff is inhumane is that he forces his victims to participate in a game that will most likely end in their death with very little chance of life. Zaroff demonstrates each of these in his actions of taunting his victims and then murdering them without any reason other than his personal enjoyment. ‘’But they are men,’ said Rainsford hotly. ‘Precisely,’ said the general. ‘That is why I use them. It gives me pleasure. They can reason, after a fashion. So they are dangerous’’ (Connel 8). In this statement, Zaroff directly says that slaughtering humans gives him pleasure, which is not what someone who follows social norms would ever even consider as a pleasurable activity.

In conclusion, Zaroff’s actions show that being civilized does not solely depend on sophistication, but rather on social and moral ethics. There is no possible way that slaughtering your own kind can be done in a polite manner and since he descends to this often, he cannot be considered civilized.

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