"The best sport in the world," agreed Rainsford.
"For the hunter," amended Whitney. "Not for the jaguar."
"Don't talk rot, Whitney," said Rainsford.
"You're a big game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?"
"Perhaps the jaguar does," observed Whitney.
"Bah! They have no understanding"4
This early conversation between Whitney and Rainsford foreshadows the events to come. Rainsford will soon experience the position of the jaguar as he is hunted by Zaroff on Ship-Trap island. The brief exchange highlights Rainsford's outlook on the sport of hunting. He expresses a lack of empathy for the plight of the hunted. Over the course of his experiences, his disposition changes remarkably.
Bleak darkness was blacking out the sea and jungle when Rainsford sighted the lights. He came upon them as he turned a crook in the coast line, and his first thought was that he had come upon a village, for there were many lights. But as he forged along he saw to his great astonishment that all the lights were in one enormous building-- a lofty structure with pointed towers plunging upward into the gloom. His eyes made out the shadowy outlines of a palatial chateau; it was set on a high bluff, and on three sides of it cliffs dived down to where the sea licked greedy lips in the shadows.10
Rainsford's first sight of Zaroff's secluded mansion foreshadows the sea of contradictions that is Zaroff. In the midst of a dark, unforgiving terrain lies a man-made masterpiece. Much like this setting, Zaroff is a cultured man. He eats, dines, and dresses like the highest members of society. On the other hand, he has a sinister, dark side that leads him to hunt men for sport.
The general filled both glasses, and said: "God makes some men poets. Some He makes kings, some beggars. Me He made a hunter. My hand was made for the trigger, my father said.... My whole life has been one prolonged hunt."17
In this passage Zaroff reveals some of the ideological underpinnings that drive his desire to hunt. As is evidenced by the passage, he truly believes that he was made specifically for this single pastime. His passion and exuberance for the sport is all-consuming. Zaroff's identity is hinged on this sole quality, a fact that makes his hunting of men all the more believable. This passage is also indicative of his role as the antagonist of the story.
"I wanted an ideal animal to hunt," explained the general. "So I said: 'What are the attributes of an ideal quarry?' And the answer was of course: 'It must have courage, cunning, and, above all, it must be able to reason.'"20
Zaroff's hunting of men is highly logical, as shown from the above passage. His sound thought process makes his desire to hunt Rainsford all the more terrifying. This passage is also somewhat of a moral statement as it demonstrates the way that humans, through higher cognitive function, can revert back to a more heathen state. It is a paradox that haunts the text.
"I have electricity. We try to be civilized here."
"Civilized? And you shoot down men?"
A trace of anger was in the general's black eyes, but it was there for but a second, and he said, in his most pleasant manner: "Dear me, what a righteous young man you are! I assure you I do not do the thing you suggest. That would be barbarous. I treat these visitors with every consideration. They get plenty of good food and exercise. they get into splendid physical condition. You shall see for yourself tomorrow."23
This passage is filled with a great deal of irony. Zaroff presents the hunting of men as a purely civilized process for the prisoners. He implies a certain degree of fairness to the sport when in fact he is robbing his captives of their freedom and their dignity as men. They have no choice as toward whether or not they want to participate. This demonstrates Zaroff's twisted logic and his somewhat paradoxical definition of civilization.
The bed was good and the pajamas of the softest silk, and he was tired in every fiber of his being, but nevertheless Rainsford could not quiet his brain with the opiate of sleep. He lay, eyes wide open. Once he thought he heard stealthy steps in the corridor outside his room. He sought to throw open the door; it would not open. He went to the window and looked out. His room was high up in one of the towers. The lights of the chateau were out now, and it was dark and silent, but there was a fragment of sallow moon, and by its wan light he could see, dimly, the courtyard; there, weaving in and out in the pattern of shadow, were black, noiseless forms; the hounds heard him at the window and looked up, expectantly, with their green eyes.26
Rainsford's observations on the first night of his stay at Ship-Trap island include numerous examples of metaphorical language. The contrast between soft, light, and civilized with dark wilderness continues throughout his stay on the island. It is only in the dark of night that Rainsford is able to see the true nature of the mansion. The fancy, polished exterior of the mansion is a facade for the barbarous activities that take place under the cover of night. Although the hunt has yet to begin, Rainsford is already trapped by the hunting dogs. Their eyes watch him as he surveys his surroundings, preventing him from making any attempt at an escape.
"You'll find this game worth playing," the general said enthusiastically. "Your brain against mine. Your woodcraft against mine. Your strength and stamina against mine. Outdoor chess! And the stake is not without value, eh?"29
Zaroff clearly envisions the match against Rainsford as one that is even. In reality, however, it is not. For one, Zaroff makes it evident that he is willing to hunt to the death. His passion for hunting is so profound that he sees nothing awry with putting everything he has into it. Rainsford, on the other hand, is an unwilling participant who is in many ways largely unprepared for the hunt. Although he is an accomplished big-game hunter, he has never had to play the role of prey, and he lacks Zaroff's familiarity with the island. That Zaroff finds the match an equal one only builds on Rainsford's understanding of his twisted psyche.
"I have played the fox, now I must play the cat of the fable."31
This short sentence provides an example of zoomorphism. Throughout the short story both Zaroff and Rainsford compare themselves to animals. Rainsford, through these comparisons, begins to see himself in the position of a prey animal. Such a connection helps him empathize with the plight of those he has hunted in the past. This represents a change in frame of mind from the very early parts of the story where he tells his friend Whitney that jaguars "have no understanding."
Rainsford did not want to believe what his reason told him was true, but the truth was as evident as the sun that had by now pushed through the morning mists. 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.34
This passage marks the first time that Rainsford is truly terrified by his plight. The odds stacked against him finally manifest themselves as a response to Zaroff's mind games. In addition, this short inner monologue provides another example of zoomorphism. It also brings to light that the hunting of men is perhaps more cruel than the hunting of animals for the simple fact that humans are able to think rationally. The wave of human emotion resulting from this ability to reason is overwhelming for Rainsford.
The general made one of his deepest bows. "I see," he said. "Splendid! One of us is to furnish a repast for the hounds. The other will sleep in this very excellent bed. On guard, Rainsford."...
He had never slept in a better bed, Rainsford decided.41
These last few sentences of the story provide a somewhat cryptic ending. Implied in Rainsford's statement is his victory over Zaroff. Given that Zaroff's last words were indicative of a fight, one is led to believe that Rainsford has killed Zaroff and won his bed. In a more metaphorical sense, Rainsfords comment can be read as a literary sigh of relief. He is no longer subject to the terrifying hunt. The lack of a fully fleshed out ending allows the reader to speculate and imagine what could have happened.
Rainsford is and American who is both a world famous big game hunter and an author of a book detailing how to hunt snow leopards that are found in Tibet. As a hunter, he has been in "tight" places and faced many dangers. As an author, he has a keen intelligence and an appreciation for elevated conversation. He also enjoys the refined things of life that a renowned reputation and riches can provide a person.
Rainsford begins his unfortunate encounter with Zaroff when he hears shots in the distance and falls off a yacht and into the Caribbean Sea. Though Rainsford is a hunter, he is a moral man with well defined definitions of right and wrong. When he and Zaroff meet and converse, he is shocked at Zaroff's human hunting penchant and believes Zaroff to be a murderer. While Zaroff is hunting Rainsford, Rainsford uses all his prodigious knowledge of hunting and the hunt to outsmart Zaroff until at one point Zaroff outwits him.
While Zaroff plays with Rainsford as with a mouse, Rainsford is actually frightened. But in the end, Rainsford wins by capturing the hunter in his bedroom and slaying him there. We know that Rainsford is a moral man with elevated principles and knowledge of right and wrong, yet when Rainsford sleeps comfortably in Zaroff's bed at the end of the hunt that Rainsford has won, some argue that this may be an indication that Rainsford's experience has made him cross his own line and therefore will replace Zaroff as the hunter of men.