Imagine being on a deserted island with no rules, no civilization, nothing besides the need to survive. The novel Lord of the Flies by William Golding and the short story “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell are two fictional stories that deal with this concept, exploring the behavior of humans in such a primitive, unstructured environment. In both stories, a distinct division develops between hunters and the hunted. While each story conveys and focuses on slightly different aspects, the two stories, more importantly, share the same fundamental view on the overall underlying theme regarding human nature.
In “The Most Dangerous Game,” general Zaroff is the hunter. As the title of the short story implies, hunting is a fun and thrilling game to Zaroff. His cunningness and his hunting instinct led to his many successes as a hunter because, as he said himself, “‘The animal had nothing but his legs and his instinct. Instinct is no match for a reason” (Connell, 47). Using his instinct and reason, the hunter in this short story demonstrates an exceptional superego. However, his instinct is evil. With his superiority to animals, Zaroff was no longer satisfied with hunting animals, so he began killing other animals with instinct and reason-humans. His disregard for human life shows Zaroff’s twisted nature. For example, during his hunt of the human Rainsford, Rainsford thought:
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“… Only the devil himself could follow that complicated trail through the jungle after dark. But, perhaps, the general was a devil” (Connell, 54). Throughout the book, this being an example, Connell alludes to the evilness of Zaroff’s character. Zaroff’s mind and his nature illustrate him as a cunning but corrupt person. The group of hunters in Lord of the Flies also becomes feral and savage. At one point, “Ralph too was fighting to get near, to get a handful of that brown, vulnerable flesh. The desire to squeeze and hurt was over-mastering” (Golding, 115). Even Ralph, who is considered more mature and civilized than the others, became caught in the thrill of the hunt.
This is because, in Lord of the Flies, the hunters lose their identity and sense of reason entirely when they hunt, relying purely on their instinct. The evil actions of the hunters when they’re following their instincts show how humans are evil. Despite the hunters’ brave act and their domination over the island, they all fear the unknown Beast. Jack, the head of the hunters, describes it as “a dark thing, a beast, some animal.” (Golding 89) The Beast, which is given a physical form as the pig head and as Lord of the Flies, symbolizes the Devil within all the hunters and the human race in general.
In this aspect, the hunter’s state of mind in Lord of the Flies is similar to “The Most Dangerous Game” because both stories suggest that humans are primitive and evil. The hunters in both stories enjoy killing, starting with animals and moving on to humans. However, Zaroff does not seem to fear anything, unlike the boys in Lord of the Flies who fear the Beast. Zaroff also uses his mind more than the boys, who completely lose their sense of reason once they become entranced by the hunt. In a sense, Zaroff is terrifying because he reasons that it is entirely acceptable to kill humans, whereas the boys mindlessly kill.
If there are hunters, then there must be the hunted. At the beginning of “The Most Dangerous Game,” Rainsford expresses his attitude towards hunting in his conversation with Whitney: “‘…Great sport, hunting.’ ‘The best sport in the world,’ agreed Rainsford. ‘For the hunter,’ amended Whitney. ‘Not for the jaguar.’ ‘Don’t talk rot, Whitney.'” (Connell, 39) Ironically, later on in the story, Rainsford is the one being hunted. His attitude towards hunting changes. He acknowledges that animals feel terror, having “played the fox” (Connell, 54) himself. When being hunted, Rainsford felt panic and dread and “knew the full meaning of terror” (Connell, 55).
Even though Rainsford had previously hunted and been in the war, it was different to be hunted. He would do anything to stay alive. Rainsford fights to keep his nerve throughout the hunt but taken over by fear, his instinctual, animal side surfaces. At one point during the hunt, “Rainsford’s impulse was to hurl himself down like a panther” (Connell, 54) even though his reason told him not to. His instinctual act of jumping into the sea and then proceeding to kill Zaroff saves him in the end. Like Zaroff, Rainsford uses both his mind and instinct-his superego. Originally a hunter, Rainsford finds himself on the other side as the animal in fear, using his wit and instinct to overcome the hunter.
In Lord of the Flies, Ralph also becomes trapped in a situation of being hunted by others. Through his fear, Ralph tries to devise a rational plan, but “…he was beginning to dread the curtain that might waver in his brain, blacking out the sense of danger, making a simpleton of him” (Golding, 196). Ralph fears losing his reason, and he fights to keep his reason while all the other boys lose theirs. There are moments where Ralph loses it, particularly near the end of the novel. When being hunted by the savages, Ralph becomes hysteric with fear: “Don’t scream. You’ll get back… Ralph screamed, a scream of fright and anger and desperation…
He swung the stake and the savage tumbled over” (Golding, 199). With his life in danger, “he forgot his wounds, his hunger and thirst, and became fear” (Golding, 200). Previously sheltered from danger, Ralph did not know true fear until he became exposed to evil on the island and realized the evil the hunters are capable of. When pushed into a corner, Ralph’s panic and his need to survive made him act on instinct, becoming like a savage as a result because humans are evil by instinct. In both “The Most Dangerous Game” and Lord of the Flies, the hunted initially start out as hunters.
The quick turn of events demonstrates how fragile status can be based on differences in reasoning and power. Although Rainsford and Ralph try to keep their nerve, they experience terror and desperation when their life is in danger. Instinct shows dominance when the prey is in fear, and as a result of the need to survive, the hunted commit animalistic acts to defend against the evil hunters. The incorporation of hunters and the hunted contributes to the theme of humanity in “The Most Dangerous Game”. The story suggests the idea that “the world is made up of two classes-the hunters and the hunted” (Connell 40). It is because of this division that fear, the struggle for survival and power exists, bringing out the worst in humans.
Humans are degraded to the level of animals in “The Most Dangerous Game”. In Zaroff’s point of view, “a thoroughbred horse or hound is worth more than” (Connell 49) the human “scum of the earth” (Connell 49). Zaroff’s heartless view of humans illustrates his evil nature. In his regard, humans are essentially all animals with reason, and like all animals, humans in their simplest form feel fear. Whitney contradicts Rainsford’s belief that animals have no understanding: “… I rather think they understand one thing-fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death” (Connell 39). Fear is a primal instinct that everyone harbors.
Put into an unstructured environment, fear brings out the worst in humans. It causes people to lose their nerve and act instinctively without thought. In humans, fear of death brings out the raw need to survive. In the short story, Rainsford was willing to do whatever it takes to ensure his survival, even if it meant killing his pursuers. The hunted sink to the same level as the hunters because it is killed or be killed. This shows how human nature is evil, selfishly treating others to fulfill their own desires. “The Most Dangerous Game” suggests that the bad nature of humans surface when engulfed by fear.
Lord of the Flies also contains a message regarding humanity. In his novel, Golding advocates that humans all feel fear. A concrete example of this is shown in the novel where the boys’ fear of the Beast tears them apart. As discovered when the Beast addresses Simon, “‘Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill… You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are?'” (Golding, 143) Tainted with fear, the evil nature in humans grows. The desire for power is also an aspect of human nature that separates people.
There is a conflict of power between Jack and Ralph, and as a result, a division occurs between the boys. The fact that most of the boys choose Jack’s authoritative power over Ralph’s democratic power shows how humans respond better to fear and brutality rather than rules and reasoning. Even though the boys have their own system of power on the island, their own rules are very much different from the rules of the civilization they came from. As the story progresses, the influence of the civilization’s rules decreases and the savagery of the boys increase. For example, at first when Roger was throwing rocks, “there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life” (Golding 62).
Lord of the Flies stresses how civilization protects the innocence of humans, preventing them from being exposed to the evil nature of humans. The evil nature of humans is brought out by fear in both “The Most Dangerous Game” and Lord of the Flies. There is a struggle for survival in both stories, although as the boys in Lord of the Flies lose their sense of reason, they dismiss being rescued, and their attention is more focused on the conflict of power and hunting.
Both stories are set on an island away from civilization where havoc activities occur, but the need for civilization is emphasized more in Lord of the Flies. While there are these minor differences, the underlying message about humanity is the same-human nature is bad. “The Most Dangerous Game” conveys this message by representing humans as animals acting instinctively to survive, and Lord of the Flies emphasizes the message through the symbol of the pig head being the Devil. In the end, both stories effectively express the idea that humans are evil in nature.
“The Most Dangerous Game” and Lord of the Flies are two stories that both include the components of the hunters, the hunted and a message about humanity. While there are differences within these elements, the overall morale of humanity remains the same in both stories. That is, that human nature is bad. Implementing the hunters and the hunted emphasize this idea. Connell and Golding share a similar vision. Humans stuck on an island with no rules are not a good idea.
- Connell, Richard. “The Most Dangerous Game.” Currents in Fiction. Virginia: McGraw-Hill, 1984.
- Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House, 1999. Print.