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I hunt men, therefore I am: An Invitation to Explore Humans’ Tendency to Kill Humans for Sport in “The Most Dangerous Game”

The history of civilization reveals that hunting animals is one of the oldest human activities. During the pre-civilization era, it was people’s main activities for survival and for selecting the bravest warrior. During the middle age up to the industrial age, some societies still hunted animals to feed themselves, while some others hunted wild animals to protect their homes, farms, and livestock. With the advancement of civilization, hunting turned out to be a sport. In some cultures, routing and killing animals for sport is a favorite pastime.

For most people, hunting, in the context of chasing and killing animals as described above is generally accepted. But, what about hunting in which humans are the prey? This idea must be shocking for most individuals, but history shows it is not fictitious. In “Manhunts: A Philosophical History” (2012), Chamayou examines the hunting of humans as an initiation rite in ancient Greece, for heretics in the Middle Ages, and law enforcement, ethnical cleansing, religious persecution in Modern age. Although the main purposes of hunting humans were to capture slaves and rule ones’ territories, some people practiced it to take pleasure in the act and treat it like a sport.

Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” (1924) is the first modern short story about human hunts human. It was adapted into a film with the same title in 1932 and inspired many other movies about the hunting of humans, such as The Naked Prey (1965), Race with the Devil (1975), Turkey Shoot (1982) and Beyond the Reach (2014) and many others. This short story focuses on the two major characters’ contest, in which one is the hunter and the other one is the hunted. Through the contestation, the motives and attitudes towards the hunting of humans are explored.

The story starts with the voyage of Rainsford, a big game hunter, and his friend Whitney to the Amazon. They shipwreck and land on an island called "Ship Trap Island" where Rainsford meets the rich General Zaroff, the owner of the island who lives there din a big house only with Ivan, a big, strong but deaf and dumb man and dozens of huge fierce dogs. Zaroff immediately recognizes Rainsford as a famous hunter and welcomes him. He claims he loves hunting, too, but is not interested to hunt wild animals anymore. He has found a weird brand of hunting, i.e. hunting real men. Different from animals that only have legs and instinct, men can reason, so that they are more challenging to hunt. He lures scumbags to his island and provides them a head start, then hunts them. Shocked by Zaroff’s explanation, Rainsford contends that hunting animals is okay, but hunting men is aa murder. So he refuses to hunt man with Zaroff.

His refusal makes Rainsford the hunted. He is promised that Zaroff will set him free if he can survive in three days. If he refuses to be hunted, he will be executed by Ivan, an ex-official knouter in the Czar era in Rusia. As the hunted, he is provided a knife, while Zaroff uses a gun to hunt. Rainsford is also given a two-hour head start to run into the jungle. Then Zaroff starts to hunt him. Rainsford runs into the jungle, uses his best hunting skills by making a diversion path and creating a Malayan trap. However, it seems that Zaroff is still able to track him. Rainsford also tries to use animal instincts to survive. He even manages to kill one of Zaroff’s dogs and Ivan. On the third night, he makes his way to Zaroff’s bedroom and kills him. 

As stated earlier, this story focuses on Zaroff and Rainsford's contest as the hunter and the hunted. The contestation takes place due to their opposing principle in hunting humans as a sport. Both are renowned hunters, but they have a contrasting view of hunting humans as they prey. If only Rainsford had agreed to hunt man with Zaroff, he would have not been hunted. 

Rainsford is a well-known, highly experienced big-game hunter and has published a book about "hunting snow leopards in Tibet." He has good physical strength, as shown from his ability to swim several miles to reach the shore when he falls overboard in the middle of the night before meeting Zaroff. His ability to survive from numerous near-death experiences while fighting in World War I or when he hunted wild animals in some most exotic locales worldwide have nurtured his belief in human life primacy and the need to respect all types of men. His experiences in the war did not make him “condone cold-blooded murder”. He is furious with Zaroff’s belief that men are merely his hunting game, to kill them is okay. For him, chasing men as prey is not hunting, but is a murder, which breaks the essence of civilization. Different from Zarof who thinks having electricity is to be civilized, Rainsford views to be civilized is not to murder. 

Ironically, Rainsford who has never felt dread becomes truly fearful when he is hunted by Zaroff so that he uses his primal instinct to survive. However, it is the primal instinct that enables him to have a competitive advantage to outsmart Zaroff. Realizing his use of primal instinct enables him to be more thoughtful of the animals he had ever hunted. The irony in this story increases when Rainsford, who always rejects killing men for sport, finally kills Zaroff, although he has won the contest. However, this betrayal of his principle could be justified because he does it to end the General’s inhumane madness! 

Similar to Rainsford, Zaroff is a skillful hunter. He began hunting when his father gave him a little gun, specially made in Moscow for him, to shoot sparrows with. When he shot his father’s prized turkeys, he was never punished; his father even complimented him on his marksmanship. Being born in a rich noble family and brought up with some special rights imbued a belief in Zaroff that he can do anything he is interested in.  He found no problem to proceed with a bigger game in his family's tract of wilderness in the Crimea. As was expected of noblemen's sons in Russia, he ever commanded a division of Cossack cavalry, but his real interest was always the hunt. That’s why he had hunted “grizzlies in … Rockies, crocodiles in the Ganges, rhinoceroses in East Africa”. He had even hunted “every kind of game in every land. 

Another trait that contrasts Zaroff and Rainsford is the former’s racism. His family’s nobility and his wealth instilled in him the belief that he is superior and stronger to other people. According to him, “Life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong, and, if needs be, taken by the strong. The weak of the world were put here to give the strong pleasure. I am strong. Why should I not use my gift? If I wish to hunt, why should I not? I hunt the scum of the earth: sailors from tramp ships--lassars, blacks, Chinese, whites, mongrels--a thoroughbred horse or hound is worth more than a score of them." 

His long experience in hunting, experience in commanding a division of Cossack cavalrymen in Russia that made him accustomed to warfare's horrors and atrocities and racism have eradicated his ability to distinguish men from beasts. Since hunting animals is not interested anymore, he invented "a new animal to hunt" that has "courage, cunning, and, above all, … be able to reason." This indicates that Zaroff has slipped into barbarism and lost his humanity. This is supported by his refusal to believe that modern and civilized a young man like Rainsford seems “to be harbors romantic ideas about the value of human life…” 

To conclude, although both Rainsford and Zaroff love hunting, the former rejects hunting humans because he believes in humanity and the latter enjoys hunting humans because he has lost his humanity. Brought up in a civilized way, although Rainsford’s experience in war does not make him permissive with cold-blooded murder. For him, killing the enemies at wars is different from killing men as a sport. Zaroff, brought up in a rich aristocratic family and was never restricted to do anything he wants, is racist and thinks he is superior. Consequently, he believes he can do anything he likes, especially hunting humans for sport. In short, one’s belief or ignorance of humanism determines his decision to accept or reject human hunting humans for sport. 


Author : Parlindungan Pardede (parlin@weedutap.com)

Comments

  1. This story reminds me about my ancestors' hunting in Nias Islands, North Sumatera, Indonesia. Long time ago, they hunted men for their king's pleasure. They brought men's hunted head, that's why they were called head as hunting men, to their kings. Besides showing their superiority, the hunted head was, according to their belief, used to prevent misfortune of a new building, bridge, house, village, or other monumental artefacts.

    Interesting, right?
    saniagonias@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete

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