“The Destructors” – Graham Greene
“The Most Dangerous Game” - Richard Connell
Rainsford in “The Most Dangerous Game”
Trevor in “The Destructors”
Brief description of both, pointing huge difference between the two protagonists – and between the location and context of each story – which influence the action and therefore, the plot
- What are their outstanding qualities? Does the author give any indication as to how or why the characters developed such qualities?
Rainsford – courage, intelligence, a sense of morality, resourceful, the ability to endure hardship, calm in the face of danger – previous experience and the First World War
Trevor – reticent, determined, inventive, malicious – his family’s fall in social status perhaps.
- What are the characters’ emotions, attitudes and behaviors? What do these indicate to the reader about the character?
Rainsford – attitudes and emotions explored fully by Connell - scared to death but responds with logic and a fierce determination to live
Trevor – shows little emotion; Greene gives the reader little insight into the character’s inner life; even the destruction of the house – though Trevor’s brainchild – is presented ambivalently by Greene
- Can the characters’ motivations be discerned from the text?
Motivation clear in “The Most Dangerous Game”- easily discerned
“The Destructors” - motivation can be inferred only – and differs for different members of the gang
“The Destructors” by Graham Greene and “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell are set in entirely different locations and, in a sense, the location of each story does have an effect on characterization and what the characters do. “The Most Dangerous Game” is set on a remote island in the Caribbean, covered in virtually impenetrable jungle: it has to be a long way from the civilized world so that General Zaroff has the opportunity to carry out his inhuman games. “The Destructors” is set in 1950s London, a city still scarred by the extensive bombing of the Luftwaffe during the Second World War: Old Misery’s house is, Greene tells us, the only one left standing in the street and that its exterior walls have to be supported by wooden struts. Rainsford is pitted individually against General Zaroff; Rainsford is completely isolated and has to rely on his own wits, courage and stamina. However, the destruction of Old Misery’s house could not be achieved by Trevor alone – he needs the cooperation of the other gang members. Rainsford is an experienced fighter and hunter; Trevor, on the other hand, is a boy probably in his early teens (Greene is not precise) and we know very little about his past. Although the characters are different from each other, they are also presented as being different from those around them in the story.
Rainsford’s main quality is his strength and stamina, but he combines them with a logical mind. When he falls overboard at the start of the story, he displays strength and determination to swim to the island. However, he is also astute enough to judge from which direction the shots are coming. Connell (1932) writes: “A certain coolheadedness had come to him; it was not the first time he had been in a tight spot” (p. 2). Although both Greene and Connell write as third person narrators, Connell writes generally from Rainsford’s point of view, while Greene adopts no single character’s viewpoint. This is important in “The Most Dangerous Game in the World”, because, by seeing events from Rainsford’s point of view, the reader is more inclined to sympathize with him. Later at General Zaroff’s castle, Rainsford displays another quality: he is able to mix naturally with people from a higher social class. He also displays a sense of morality: when he realizes that the general hunts and kills human beings on the island, he states clearly: “I am hunter, not a murderer” and asserts that he does not condone “cold-blooded murder” (Connell, 1932, p. 5). Later, as Zaroff hunts him through the jungle, Rainsford displays courage under extreme pressure; ingenuity in constructing a Malay mancatcher and a Burmese tiger pit. However, his last desperate act shows his stamina and his intelligence – he swims to the general’s castle and manages to break to confront the general in his own bedroom. Connell gives Rainsford a past which helps the reader understand where he has attained his fighting skills and his calm attitude to dangerous situations. He has fought in the First World War, and he has become such a famous hunter of big game that books have been written about him – General Zaroff has read them. By contrast, Trevor’s qualities are much less evident: he is inventive, because he comes up with the plan to destroy the house, and he displays organizational skills in getting the members of the gang to bring the necessary tools and he organizes the work once it starts. He also acts ruthlessly at the moment in the story when leadership of the gang passes from Blackie to him, as well as displaying determination in destroying the house. In Rainsford’s case his qualities have been created through experience, both in the First World War and then on hunting expeditions around the world. In Trevor’s case the source of his qualities is harder to discern. Greene tells us on the opening page of the story that Trevor’s father as “a former architect” (Greene, 1954, p. 1) – and it may be that fact that gives Trevor the sophisticated knowledge to recognize that Old Misery’s house was designed by Sir Christopher Wren.
In “The Most Dangerous Game in the World” almost all of Rainsford’s behavior and attitudes are focused on staying alive. He does have some moments of relaxation such as the opening of the story when he is on deck, chatting with Whitney, or at the general’s over the meal – before the general reveals what he maintains the island for, but apart from that he is facing potentially fatal situations all the time. Connell gives the reader frequent updates on Rainsford’s physical state – because this is crucial to how he copes physically with the situations he faces. An important attitude that he does express vehemently is his moral repugnance at the general’s hunting of human beings – just for the thrill of the chase, and because human prey offer him greater challenges than animal prey. Trevor, by way of contrast to Rainsford, is a peripheral character in “The Destructors” until he suggests the destruction of the house: after this, he shows great enthusiasm and speaks more than he has ever done among the gang. The scene where he and Blackie burn the money that Trevor has found in Old Misery’s mattress is an interesting one: setting fire to the money (rather than stealing it) suggests that Trevor is intent on destroying all parts of the material world that the beautiful interior of Old Misery’s house represents. When Blackie asks Trevor if he hates Old Misery, Trevor replies, “Of course I don’t hate him. There’d be no fun if I hated him. All this hate and love, it’s all soft, it’s hooey. There’s only things, Blackie” (Greene, 1954, p. 9). This attitude is nihilistic and amoral in its outlook.
Rainsford’s motivations are clear throughout “The Most Dangerous Game in the World” – he wants to stay alive. It is a simple motivation, simply expressed, and the reader expects Rainsford to live: partly because Connell adopts Rainsford’s point of view and partly because the story’s genre pitches an archetypal hero against a sophisticated but wholly evil antagonist. In this type of story a man characterized as Rainsford is cannot die. In Greene’s story Trevor’s motivation is not stated clearly but is can be inferred from what we know of him and his family. His father may have once been an architect, but now “he had come down in the world and his mother considered herself better than the neighbors” (p. 1). Wilcox and Rankin (1992) are in no doubt that “Old Misery’s house is often seen as a symbol for the values of snobbish social class” (p. 191). Trevor himself is seen by the gang as originating from a higher class than they do, and, if we follow this line of thought, the destruction of the house would see to represent Trevor’s revenge on the class that his parents have just dropped from – or a general attack on the British class system as represented by houses designed by Sir Christopher Wren – especially in a story set in an era where a great deal of the bomb damage had not been
Connell, Richard. (1932). “The Most Dangerous Game”. Retrieved from http://www.classicshorts.com/danger.html
Green, Graham. (1954). “The Destructors”. Retrieved from http://100mudcats.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/destructors.pdf
Wilcox, Earl J. & Rankin, David L. (1992). Fundamentals of Fiction. New York: University Press of America.