Teeming, wild, and ungovernable, the jungle serves as a powerful symbol of Zaroff’s tangled psyche and the chaos within the island. The “snarled and ragged” growth shrouds the island, concealing Zaroff’s grotesque hunt from the rest of the world. The jungle is also an emblem of restriction and Rainsford’s loss of control because it impedes his effort to return to civilization. The morning he awakens on the island’s shore, for example, he can see no way through the tangled of trees and undergrowth before him. During the hunt, claustrophobia overtakes him as Zaroff closes in for the kill. Ultimately, Rainsford must free himself from this thorny physical and mental space and does so by rejecting the jungle altogether in favor of the sea.
Ship-Trap Island symbolizes a similarly uncharted region where the laws governing normal human discourse don’t exist. Here, General Zaroff’s plays out his homicidal whims unchecked, unimpeded, and a world apart from Rainsford’s comfortable life of privilege and ease. In many ways, the island is an antiutopian society under the rule of a tyrant seeking to exterminate other people instead of sustaining them. The autocratic Zaroff, without any compassion or regard for human life, exerts absolute control over everything. Isolated, the island is a realm of wild, uncontrollable, and unspeakable desires recklessly pursued without any sense of morality. Subject to legend and superstition, the island is an unconscious embodiment of fear, abstract and impalpable, just like the chill and shudder that Whitney feels as the yacht first sails by.