The Most Dangerous Game
by Richard Connell
First a quick reminder: the whole reason that Rainsford swims toward the shots in the first place is that he’s looking for food. And the first thing he tells Ivan is "I'm Sanger Rainsford of New York […] I fell off a yacht. I am hungry" (1.52). Now, Connell lets us know we aren’t dealing with your average camper through the food Count Zaroff serves. Rainsford probably would have been satisfied with a foot-long sub, but Zaroff really does it up right. The General has a very sophisticated palate.
Let’s see what’s on the menu: they start with a cocktail, then move to a table with the finest linen, crystal, silver, china. They then enjoy “a particularly well-cooked filet mignon” (1.70) while admiring the heads mounted on the wall (a sort of creepy juxtaposition that suggests cannibalism, but we digress). They also enjoy “borsch, the rich, red soup with whipped cream so dear to Russian palates” (1.67) and fine champagne no worse for having traveled by sea to the island. They seem to forgo dessert because, strangely, Rainsford loses his appetite after hearing about Zaroff’s whole sadistic cat and mouse game with humans.
Having worked up a mean appetite after the hunt, Zaroff returns to the castle for a series of alcoholic beverages, including brandy from a flask, a bottle of Pol Roger and half a bottle of Chambertin. He may have been a little off his game by the time he ran into Rainsford in his bedroom.
Because most of the story comes through Rainsford’s perspective, we don’t get a sense of what he looks like, so let’s just assume he’s handsome and in crazy good shape because it’s more fun that way. We do know that he knows what good clothes are because he admires the duds that Ivan lays out for him, recognizing that they are “from a London tailor who ordinarily cut and sewed for none below the rank of duke” (1.64). So even though he “wrestled himself out of his clothes” (1.34) to swim to shore, we can be pretty sure that he was wearing the appropriate boating attire.
The good stuff is with Ivan, who has “psycho” written all over him. Answering the door, Ivan presents a vision of “the largest man Rainsford had ever seen—a gigantic creature, solidly made and black bearded to the waist.” Ivan is “dressed in uniform—a black uniform trimmed with gray astrakhan” (1.48). Looks cozy.
As for Zaroff (coming down the stairs like “an erect, slender man in evening clothes” [1.51]) well, Rainsford’s description says it all:
the man was singularly handsome; his second [impression] was that there was an original, almost bizarre quality about the general's face. He was a tall man past middle age, for his hair was a vivid white; but his thick eyebrows and pointed military mustache were as black as the night from which Rainsford had come. His eyes, too, were black and very bright. He had high cheekbones, a sharpcut nose, a spare, dark face—the face of a man used to giving orders, the face of an aristocrat. (1.57)
We won’t go so far as to say there’s an attraction there, but Rainsford is definitely intrigued. Zaroff just has that good-looking James Bond villain thing really working for him.
Hunters don't work—they hunt. Which is a game, not a job. According to Rainsford and Zaroff, hunting is pleasure. It’s just that being hunted is a little tricky. It’s work but not technically an occupation—you know, with benefits, ergonomic chairs, and a 401(k).
Because Zaroff was a nobleman, he can’t stomach the whole working stiff, 9 to 5 rat race. Good thing he saved money: “Many noble Russians lost everything. I, luckily, had invested heavily in American securities, so I shall never have to open a tearoom in Monte Carlo or drive a taxi in Paris” (1.90). Basically real work is beneath him, and he doesn’t want to end up like those sad sack Americans businessmen who “often go to pieces when they give up the business that has been their life."
So when the Czar fell, a lot of people lost their place at the top of society and all of the great fringe benefits of being an aristocrat. Not to judge, but it does seem like Ivan is really the only one who works here. He “once had the honor of serving as official knouter to the Great White Czar” (1.135) and now shuffles about doing a lot of Zaroff’s heavy lifting, so to speak.