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The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Edward Connell

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What is the verbal irony in the title of "The Most Dangerous Game"?

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Richard Connel's short story "The Most Dangerous Game" is about a deadly hunt on a remote island between two men. Sanger Rainsford, a big game hunter from America, is the protagonist and General Zaroff, a Cossack military officer, the antagonist. Rainsford meets Zaroff when he accidentally falls off his yacht while passing Zaroff's island.

The title uses verbal irony to describe what happens in the story. Verbal irony is when a writer says one thing, but really means something different. Initially, the reader may think Connel's title refers to a real game that for some reason has become perilous.

In fact, the title has a double meaning. On one hand, it does portray a game (defined as something played) which has turned deadly. Zaroff reveals to Rainsford that, because he's grown bored with hunting animals, he now hunts men on his remote island and suggests Rainsford join him. When Rainsford refuses, the General sets his guest loose on the island and proceeds to hunt him down. Zaroff describes the "game":

"You'll find this game worth playing," the general said enthusiastically. "Your brain against mine. Your woodcraft against mine. Your strength and stamina against mine. Outdoor chess! And the stake is not without value, eh?" 

On the other hand, game can also be defined as an animal that is being hunted. In this case, Rainsford becomes the game. He is ultimately dangerous because he not only kills Zaroff's servant, his best dog, but in the end, the general himself when they duel in Zaroff's bedroom in the finale of the story.

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Is the title of "The Most Dangerous Game" ironic at all?

In a most skillfully contrived plot, Richard Connell presents antagonists and protagonists who, ironically, switch roles under a title that is both double entendre and ironic.  In oneinstnace of irony, as they dine in his chateau, General Zaroff and Sanger Rainsford discuss hunting and big game.  Rainsford tells the general that he has always felt that the Cape buffalo is "the most dangerous of big game," but the general counters with the remark,

"Here in my preserve on this island,....I hunt more dangerous game....[T]he biggest."

Thus, there is much irony in General Zaroff's remark. The "game" of which he speaks is the human being, who, while by no means is the biggest in size, is certainly the most clever and intelligent, and, therefore, dangerous.

Zaroff considers man as the most dangerous of game since man can use his intellectual capabilities and devise clever schemes for the defeat of his foe.  His term is ironic because he says something and means more than what he says in his response to Rainsford's comment about the Cape buffalo.  Furthermore, Zaroff's remark is also an example of dramatic irony as he does not realize that it is he who is to become, not the hunter, but himself the "most dangerous game."

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