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The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Edward Connell

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What is the irony in the general's statement in "The Most Dangerous Game"?

Rainsford says, "The Cape buffalo is the most dangerous big game." The general then says, "Here on my preserve on this island...I hunt more dangerous game."

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This brief exchange between Rainsford and Zaroff is the beginning of understanding the central situational irony of the entire story. While General Zaroff seems the epitome of civilization in many ways, it is in this scene that the reader begins to discover, along with Rainsford, that Zaroff is actually a man who takes great pleasure in hunting humans for sport. Because humans are the most intelligent victims, Zaroff does not see them as only "game" to be hunted, but as "game" that creates a "game" of survival in a way that no other animal does. While Zaroff shows no remorse over his choice of "game," it is important to note that he understands the need to keep his desires secret. He says to Rainsford: "Here on my preserve on this island . . . I hunt more dangerous game." Thus, the reader sees that Zaroff's hunting, although we may not be fully aware of what that means at this point, is something that can only take place in this specific location. It is clear, once Zaroff begins hunting Rainsford later in the story, that Zaroff genuinely derives sadistic joy from the challenging hunt that people create.

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The irony is in the meaning of the word "game". This is a pun, a play on words. When Rainsford uses the word, he's referring to animals that are hunted by men, such as bear. Zaroff is using the word "game" to mean the hunting of men is a game to him, much like playing chess. This is why Zaroff decided to hunt men--they are more of a challenge. His hunting "game" becomes one of wits between Zaroff and the men he hunts.

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