What is the Irony of the story "The Most Dangerous Game"?
The main irony in the plot of "The Most Dangerous Game" is in the fact that Sanger Rainsford, the world-famous big-game hunter, becomes the big-game being hunted. This is so bizarre that it is like a nightmare, both for Rainsford and for the reader who becomes engrossed in the story. In fact, an English teacher might assign students to come up with an alternate ending in which Rainsford wakes in a panic and finds that he is in his berth on the yacht. The explanation for his harrowiing dream might be that his conversation about animals' feelings or lack of feelings caused Rainsford to continue thinking about the subject as he fell asleep, and his thoughts became transformed into the scenario described in the story. What woke him was finding himself, in his nightmare, trapped and helpless while his nemesis General Zaroff raised his high-powered rifle and pulled the trigger. If the incident were a dream rather than a real-life experience, it could still have the same effect on the viewpoint character. He might decide to give up hunting altogether, having experienced the same feelings as those attributable to a hunted animal. They could also have the same effect on the reader, to whom the story would actually be like a bad dream rather than a real life-or-death experience.
A parallel situation occurs in the excellent black-and-white movie The Woman in the Window (1944), starring Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett. Another parallel in the movies is The Deer Hunter (1978), starring Robert De Niro.
There is certainly an ironic twist to the plot when Sanger Rainsford becomes the hunted after having been a hunter for most of his life. To foreshadow this ironic twist, in the exposition of the story as Rainsford and his fellow hunter Whitney talk on board their ship as they anticipate their hunting jaguar near the Amazon. When Rainsford agrees with Whitney that hunting is exciting, he calls it the "best sport in the world."
"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.
This remark of Rainsford that he does not care about the feelings of the jaguar is, indeed, ironic because Rainsford himself later becomes the "big-game" [jaguar] and he, too, learns the fear and pain of being prey. For, as Rainsford crouches amid the leaves of the tree in which he hides, watching Zaroff beneath him, calmly smoking and sending smoke rings up to him, Rainsford nervously watches, wondering if the general will see him. After Zaroff departs, Rainsford fearfully realizes that the Cossack has not missed seeing him: "Then it was that Rainsford knew the full meaning of terror."
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.
Later in the narrative, as well, Rainsford waits nervously to see if the general falls into the Burmese tiger pit that he has fashioned. As he does so, "[H]e lived a year in a minute." After one of the dogs is killed in the trap, General Zaroff returns to his castle. The next day of the hunt, Rainsford is being chased and runs for his life. "Rainsford knew now how an animal at bay feels." Further, when Rainsford escapes and turns up at the castle, he tells the general, "I am still a beast at bay."
The Most Dangerous Game was a short story that definitely confused me the first time I read it through. This particular short story is one filled with dark, disturbing themes, and along with the intricate vocabulary can make for a very difficult read.
The irony in this story is actually quite frightening and slightly disturbing. It also isn't apparent until almost the very end of the story. Rainsford, a renowned hunter, gets chased down by Zaroff, who is searching for him to kill him. This is the irony (the hunter is getting hunted).
"Irony " in a story can best be understood as a series of circumstances or a result that is opposite (or in contrast) to what might be expected. For example, it would be considered irony if a firehouse burned down, or if a cardiologist had a heart attack. Why? Because both incidents are opposite of what would normally be expected. Literary irony can also be the contrast between what a character in a story thinks the truth and what the reader or audience knows it to be. The popular film "Titanic " is an excellent example of irony used for dramatic effect when it is revealed to the audience at the end of the film that the underwater search for the "Heart of the Ocean" diamond was fruitless, as old Rose had it all along. The irony of her throwing it back into the ocean gives the story a bittersweet (and unexpected ) ending.