He was finding the general a most thoughtful and affable host, a true cosmopolite. But there was one small trait of the general's that made Rainsford uncomfortable. Whenever he looked up from his plate he found the general studying him, appraising him narrowly. (1.68)
Rainsford doesn’t know it yet but the competition has already begun. That creepy feeling is Zaroff sizing Rainsford up as his next prey. This is what you would call a literal meat market.
“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." (1.121)
Confused? Well, it seems that he prefers hunting humans because they can reason. But he only wants to hunt low class humans because then he doesn’t have to care about killing them. On top of that, animals are worth more than these people. So does he hunt people because they are better or worse than animals?
“I hope the jaguar guns have come from Purdey's. We should have some good hunting up the Amazon. Great sport, hunting.” (1.7)
Though it’s not football or hockey, hunting is a sport to these men. But things get sticky when you start caring about animals and assuming they have feelings. Just don’t go there.
"I refuse to believe that so modern and civilized a young man as you seem to be harbors romantic ideas about the value of human life. Surely your experiences in the war—" (1.115)
Why does Zaroff consider Rainsford a romantic? Remember, Rainsford sees himself as a “realist.” Should the war have taught him that human beings aren’t worth a lick? Isn’t it possible to make the opposite argument after one has seen all the carnage of war?
"They were no match at all for a hunter with his wits about him, and a high-powered rifle. I was bitterly disappointed.” (1.90)
Okay, let’s take a look at this. How could the animal compete against someone with wits and a high-powered rifle? Zaroff never pauses to consider that the hunt is a terribly uneven playing field.
"Simply this: hunting had ceased to be what you call `a sporting proposition.' It had become too easy. I always got my quarry. Always. There is no greater bore than perfection." (1.96)
To Zaroff, hunting is no longer a sport when the animal becomes too easy to kill. Hey—here’s an idea: try fighting without the gun and see how far human reason will get you in the face of animal instinct.
"Oh," said the general, "it supplies me with the most exciting hunting in the world. No other hunting compares with it for an instant. Every day I hunt, and I never grow bored now, for I have a quarry with which I can match my wits." (1.105)
Clearly Zaroff has an issue with being bored. He believes that humans are equal competitors, but he’s lying to himself if he doesn’t factor in that he knows every inch of the island and that those poor suckers don’t even know where Death Swamp is located.
"Precisely," said the general. "That is why I use them. It gives me pleasure. They can reason, after a fashion. So they are dangerous." (1.123)
Let’s break this down: Zaroff sees reason as a crucial ingredient of competition and the ultimate way of creating danger. He may enjoy the psychological warfare more than the actually physical harming bit. Should this change how we feel about him? Does it make him a darker figure? A less bloodthirsty one?
"Hunting? Great Guns, General Zaroff, what you speak of is murder." (1.114)
So Rainsford values human life and sees Zaroff’s game as unthinkable. How do you reconcile his assertion here with what he does at the story’s end?
“Be a realist. The world is made up of two classes--the hunters and the huntees. Luckily, you and I are hunters.” (1.14)
Luck? What is this, the lotto? Rainsford has a pretty simplified idea of human categories. And by the way, does the fact that he refers to them as “two classes” have anything to do with Zaroff’s whole attitude as a privileged aristocrat?
“What I felt was a—a mental chill; a sort of sudden dread." (1.22)
Whitney taps into a central idea here: that the violence the characters will experience is not limited to what happens to your body, it’s also what happens in your head. But Rainsford dismisses Whitney’s fear as “Pure imagination.”
In his hand the man held a long-barreled revolver, and he was pointing it straight at Rainsford's heart. (1.48)
What does a man answering the door with a revolver expect to find? A trick-or-treater? A Bengal tiger? The fact that Rainsford tells him not to be “alarmed” is an indication that our protagonist may be missing a few clues.
Some wounded thing—by the evidence, a large animal—had thrashed about in the underbrush; the jungle weeds were crushed down and the moss was lacerated; one patch of weeds was stained crimson. (1.43)
This is a little thing we in the forensics field like to call “evidence.” Connell presents evidence on two levels here: the first is for Rainsford himself. The scene of struggle is practically shouting, “Hey something ugly happened here—and with a gun!” Now, given that a weapon was used, is it Rainsford’s best idea to head to the only place on the island where people are and just go up and knock on the door?
Secondly, Connell is sending us (the readers) a hint that it’s about to get real: look at his word choice: “thrashed,” “crushed,” “lacerated”… Come on, people!
When I was only five years old he gave me a little gun, specially made in Moscow for me, to shoot sparrows with. (1.88)
This is what we call “a childhood history of violence.” Now in our current politically correct world, we would not encourage someone barely out of Pampers to shoot at small animals—although Angry Birds really helps five-year-olds with their fine motor skills. And while Zaroff lived in different times for sure—Crimea circa 1900s—the gun toting toddler activities do seem to have made an impression on him.
The cry was pinched off short as the blood-warm waters of the Caribbean Sea dosed over his head. (1.33)
You don’t even need to see acts of violence to know that violence is out there. Connell places signs of threat everywhere. Even the Caribbean Sea seems menacing.
“A simple fellow, but, I'm afraid, like all his race, a bit of a savage."
"Is he Russian?"
"He is a Cossack," said the general, and his smile showed red lips and pointed teeth. "So am I." (1.59-60)
Here’s a good place to put two and two together: If Ivan is a savage and a Cossack and Zaroff is a Cossack, does that mean he’s a savage, too?
"Hurled me against a tree," said the general. "Fractured my skull. But I got the brute." (1.74)
Hey, it’s all fun and games until a Cape buffalo busts your skull. Well, clearly it didn't knock any sense into Zaroff because this is the pivotal moment at which he decides he needs a more skilled (and reasonable) opponent.
“It must have courage, cunning, and, above all, it must be able to reason.” (1.107)
Imagine this sentence being Zaroff’s Match.com description for the perfect opponent. Now, why did we put this one under the theme of “Violence”? Because it is so unviolent. It’s not like he says, “It must have a vicious appetite for blood, lack of human compassion, and the ability to tear a human limb from limb with his bare hands.” That’s what Ivan is there for.
"The best sport in the world," agreed Rainsford. (1.8)
Trace the evolution of Rainsford’s understanding of violence. In the beginning, he clearly sees it as a sport. If we could ask him at the end, how might he describe it then?
“Not many men know how to make a Malay mancatcher. Luckily for me I, too, have hunted in Malacca. You are proving interesting, Mr. Rainsford. I am going now to have my wound dressed; it's only a slight one. But I shall be back. I shall be back." (2.15)
In case you hadn’t noticed, Zaroff finds the hunt amusing. He doesn’t bat an eyelash when he gets hurt. Consider this: to General Zaroff, hunting has very little to do with violence. If he liked violence that much, why bother having Ivan do the dirty work?
“And hunting, remember, had been my life. I have heard that in America businessmen often go to pieces when they give up the business that has been their life." (1.90)
Forget for a minute that Americans can’t retire in this economy—why is Zaroff so preoccupied with Americans? It seems a strange analogy for a Crimean aristocrat.
"And now," said the general, "I want to show you my new collection of heads. Will you come with me to the library?" (1.142)
Picture this room like a yearbook but with stuffed heads. Why would Rainsford want to miss such a rare delight?
"Surely your experiences in the war—"
"Did not make me condone cold-blooded murder," finished Rainsford stiffly. (1.116)
Does Zaroff make Rainsford condone cold-blooded murder—or does Rainsford get there on his own?
"Ivan is an incredibly strong fellow," remarked the general, "but he has the misfortune to be deaf and dumb. A simple fellow, but, I'm afraid, like all his race, a bit of a savage." (1.58)
Well Zaroff just picks and chooses his savages. What’s a little confusing here is that they are both Cossacks, so if Ivan is a savage doesn’t that make Zaroff one, too? Or is that the whole point of the remark?
“But sometimes I think sailors have an extra sense that tells them when they are in danger. Sometimes I think evil is a tangible thing--with wave lengths, just as sound and light have. An evil place can, so to speak, broadcast vibrations of evil.” (1.25)
Superstition is based on the idea that we have a sense of things that go beyond reason and rational explanation. So are the sailors superstitious—or just right?
About the hall were mounted heads of many animals—lions, tigers, elephants, moose, bears; larger or more perfect specimens Rainsford had never seen. (1.65)
Zaroff’s trophy room is impressive. In a move we totally approve of, Rainsford declines the invitation to see the room with the mounted human heads.
The hunter had his nerve with him to tackle it with a light gun. It's clear that the brute put up a fight. (1.44)
Well, Rainsford hasn’t really matched up the whole weapon prey thing, but he is able to deduce a few clues from the scene of the crime.
"Don't talk rot, Whitney," said Rainsford. "You're a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?" (1.10)
Rainsford definitely functions under the man vs. nature model. He does sort of concede here that a jaguar feels, just that he doesn’t care how it feels.
"Even so, I rather think they understand one thing—fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death." (1.13)
Of our small cast and crew here, Whitney is definitely the most sympathetic. So why does he hunt?
Even as he touched it, the general sensed his danger and leaped back with the agility of an ape. (2.14)
Even though Zaroff sees himself as the consummate rationalist, he still uses the instincts of an animal to survive.
[…] and doggedly he swam in that direction, swimming with slow, deliberate strokes, conserving his strength (1.35)
Well, he is swimming toward the pistol shots, but we’ll give him credit that he knows what he’s doing. Notice that he’s not thrashing around—he’s slow and deliberate, knowing he’s in for the long haul.
A certain cool headedness had come to him; it was not the first time he had been in a tight place. (1. 34)
He’s a hunter, after all. He’s probably faced down a Sumatran rhinoceros in the tropical lowlands of Borneo—you think a little water is going to stop him? But of course, this is only the beginning.
What perils that tangle of trees and underbrush might hold for him did not concern Rainsford just then (1.39)
So whether something was lurking in the jungle waiting to pounce does not concern a man who is just trying to survive.
“Your brain against mine. Your woodcraft against mine. Your strength and stamina against mine. Outdoor chess!” (1.162)
Ask yourself this one: Why doesn’t Zaroff just play chess? Because he likes the physical challenge, too?
“Instinct is no match for reason.” (1.98)
This idea dominates the story, so keep it at the forefront of your mind as you read—and maybe as you live your daily life. Can you always think your way out of a situation?
Then he leaped far out into the sea (2.29)
Back where he started, Rainsford uses the sea to his advantage. Zaroff may know the island, but he can’t think outside the box—or the, uh, island.
He saw that straight flight was futile; inevitably it would bring him face to face with the sea. He was in a picture with a frame of water, and his operations, clearly, must take place within that frame. (2.2)
Rainsford’s first thought is that he must function on the territory of the island itself. It’s only when he throws away this idea that he is able to survive—and prevail.
Rainsford knew he could do one of two things. He could stay where he was and wait. That was suicide. He could flee. That was postponing the inevitable (2.23)
Must. Keep. Moving. Does he really believe that resistance is futile? How does he regain faith that victory is in his reach?
Rainsford's second thought was even more terrible. It sent a shudder of cold horror through his whole being. Why had the general smiled? Why had he turned back? (2.9)
Here’s where you really see the hunt as a game. Why does Zaroff let Rainsford win? What exactly is the pleasure he gets at this point?
"Your Burmese tiger pit has claimed one of my best dogs. Again you score. I think, Mr. Rainsford, I’ll see what you can do against my whole pack. I'm going home for a rest now. Thank you for a most amusing evening." (2.21)
One scored for Rainsford. But if Zaroff is such a superior hunter, why does he need a pack of bloodhounds to help him?
He wrestled himself out of his clothes and shouted with all his power (1.34)
Keep track of the examples in which Rainsford applies strength to survive—and, likewise, when he applies reason. Preventing himself from drowning is not something that he applies brainpower to accomplish.
"I had no wish to go to pieces," he said. "I must do something. Now, mine is an analytical mind, Mr. Rainsford. Doubtless that is why I enjoy the problems of the chase." (1.92)
In the character of Zaroff, Connell makes some intriguing suggestions about the nature of the analytical mind. So much is said of strength and wits, but what about ethics? Zaroff’s intense desire to examine the state of things leaves out the central factor of morals. It’s almost as if they don’t exist on his island—maybe because they don’t have to?
"A twenty-two," he remarked. "That's odd. It must have been a fairly large animal too.” (1.44)
Think about how guns figure into the strength vs. skill argument. Which one is required to shoot a gun? Both? Neither?
"Even so, I rather think they understand one thing—fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death." (1.13)
How does fear relate to strength and skill? Can fear be as big a motivator and advantage as those two—or does fear put someone at a disadvantage?
[…] doggedly he swam in that direction, swimming with slow, deliberate strokes, conserving his strength. (1.35)
Another point for strength. Rainsford isn’t just shrewd; he’s got muscle power.
The first thing Rainsford's eyes discerned was the largest man Rainsford had ever seen—a gigantic creature, solidly made and black bearded to the waist. (1.48)
Meet Ivan. He’s Zaroff’s heavy—the one who wields the whip. Is he the brawn to Zaroff’s brain? Does he have strength or skill?
“My whole life has been one prolonged hunt.” (1.88)
Here’s some real soul-baring on Zaroff’s part. We see his desire to hunt as pathology, an obsession. His short bio tells us that hunting has been in him since he was a child shooting an innocent sparrow.
“They were no match at all for a hunter with his wits about him, and a high-powered rifle.” (1.90)
Let’s slow down here for a sec. How many animals could be a match for a hunter with a high-powered rifle—wits or no? We’d like to see a little discussion of technology and weaponry here.
“You see, I read all books on hunting published in English, French, and Russian. I have but one passion in my life, Mr. Rainsford, and it is the hunt." (1.69)
Zaroff may be a bookworm, but reading is not his passion. He does his research, but the real learning takes place outside the classroom.
“A simple fellow, but, I'm afraid, like all his race, a bit of a savage." (1.58)
Now we get a little insight into Ivan. He is precious to Rainsford because of his simplicity. According to Zaroff’s characterization, Ivan is no brain trust. In a way, he fits into the category of Zaroff’s “scum of the earth.” Wonder if Zaroff ever thought of hunting him.
"No animal had a chance with me any more. That is no boast; it is a mathematical certainty. The animal had nothing but his legs and his instinct. Instinct is no match for reason.”
“[The ideal quarry] must have courage, cunning, and, above all, it must be able to reason.” (1.89, 98)
What does Zaroff mean by “mathematical certainty” in this context?
"One superstitious sailor can taint the whole ship's company with his fear." (1.24)
A lot of people think that superstition is contagious and go to great lengths to control it (like, say, hockey players?). Even if sailors don’t know exactly what they’re afraid of, they get a bad vibe. After all, sailors were the first to say, “Knock on wood.”
Rainsford heard a sound. It came out of the darkness, a high screaming sound, the sound of an animal in an extremity of anguish and terror. (1.36)
Wait—didn’t Rainsford just argue that animals couldn’t experience fear? If so, why would he think he hears an animal in “terror”? Wouldn’t that make him deduce that it was not, in fact, an animal—but a human?
"Even so, I rather think they understand one thing—fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death." (1.10)
Whitney offers a compelling argument to Rainsford’s dismissive attitude toward killing jaguars: that they understand fear. Perhaps without intending it, Whitney assumes that animals have a complex understanding of what being hunted means. Do you think animals really know that they could die, or do they just flee by instinct? Do you agree with Whitney or with Rainsford here?
Rainsford had fought his way through the bush for two hours. "I must keep my nerve. I must keep my nerve," he said through tight teeth. (2.1)
Rainsford has to keep his game face on here. Do you think he keeps it together?
"I will not lose my nerve. I will not." (2.10)
Rainsford has to give himself a little pep talk. Why does Connell have him speak out loud and not just think these things to himself? After all, we do have an omniscient narrator.
He stood there, rubbing his injured shoulder, and Rainsford, with fear again gripping his heart, heard the general's mocking laugh ring through the jungle. (2.14)
Again with the spooky laugh. We know Zaroff is a madman because even when he is injured, he still manages to have a good time.
At daybreak Rainsford, lying near the swamp, was awakened by a sound that made him know that he had new things to learn about fear. (2.22)
Have you noticed that Rainsford often fears what he hears much more than what he sees?
The general was playing with him! The general was saving him for another day's sport! The Cossack was the cat; he was the mouse. Then it was that Rainsford knew the full meaning of terror. (2.10)
That general finds amusement in the strangest ways. It’s when Rainsford realizes that the general is actually enjoying torturing him that he faces his greatest fear.
It was flight now, a desperate, hopeless flight, that carried him on for some hours. (2.16)
Rainsford is functioning on pure instinct, pure adrenaline. He moves between encouraging himself and feeling that survival is hopeless.
The general sucked in his breath and smiled. "I congratulate you," he said. "You have won the game." (2.35)
Now, is this a man who thinks he’s about to be fed to his own bloodhounds? The only way he could be such a good loser is that he thinks his opponent is going to play by the rules and simply go away.