silhouette of a man with one eye open hiding in the jungle

The Most Dangerous Game

by Richard Edward Connell

Start Free Trial

What is the irony in "The Most Dangerous Game"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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."

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the story "The Most Dangerous Game," what is the irony of the whole story and how does it create the theme and author's tone?

The big irony in this short story is how the hunter becomes the hunted. In his usual life, Rainsford is a big game hunter extraordinaire. When he is placed in the "game" with General Zaroff, he becomes the prey rather than the predator. In addition, Rainsford first responded to Zaroff's invitation to the game with shock and disbelief. However, once he is forced into the "survival of the fittest" scenario, we are led by Connell to believe that Rainsford kills Zaroff and sleeps in his bed. The contrast here is that Rainsford, the very person who was so appalled by the idea of murder, has to kill Zaroff to end the plot. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the story "The Most Dangerous Game," what is the irony of the whole story and how does it create the theme and author's tone?

In "The Most Dangerous Game" the irony--a contrast between what is expected and what actually happens--is the fact that Rainsford, who responds with umbrage to General Zaroff at dinner the first night that he does "not condone cold-blooded murder,"  becomes a cold-blooded murderer himself.  For, after being filled with terrror and feeling like "an animal at bay," Rainsford escapes his predators and returns to become himself the predator, who after killing General Zaroff, feels as did Zaroff, no compunction:  "He had never slept in a better bed, Rainsford decided."

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on