The Most Dangerous Game

Themes and Colors
Civilization and Community Theme Icon
Condoned Violence vs. Murder Theme Icon
Extreme Social Darwinism Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Most Dangerous Game, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

As the story of an aristocrat who hunts the shipwrecked men that wash ashore on his private island, “The Most Dangerous Game” challenges the idea that highbrow pastimes and aristocratic society are synonymous with being civilized or moral. The term “civilized” usually refers to highly-developed culture and refined behavior, as well as an ability to live in peaceful communities, but the aristocrat Zaroff does not meet this definition—despite his refinement and social position, General Zaroff…

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Both Zaroff and Rainsford are former military men and avid hunters—in other words, they participate in socially-condoned killing. But Zaroff also participates in a kind of killing that is not socially accepted—hunting human beings for sport—the central plot point of “The Most Dangerous Game.” Zaroff insists that his actions are justified, and that he has been liberated from the silly “Victorian” sentiments about human life to which Rainsford remains captive. Rainsford, however (and, presumably, the…

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Zaroff personifies the social Darwinist extremism that plagued much of the early 20th century. Social Darwinism is a term used to describe the ideologies that became popular in the late 19th century applying Charles Darwin’s theories of natural selection to human society. These ideas quickly escalated into extremism when societies and governments, following British philosopher Howard Spencer’s phrase “survival of the fittest,” started labeling certain humans as socially unfit (usually racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ…

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