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General Zaroff is one of the most disturbing characters in modern literature. He is a Cossack who once commanded a cavalry devision, but after a debacle he left to commit himself to hunting full time. He is bored with hunting animals, so he decides to hunt people instead. He finds himself an island and builds a large house, hires a frighteningly large mute named Ivan to beat his victims into submission, and proceeds to enjoy the most dangerous game. Zarroff tells Rainsford, his last vitctim, "God makes some men poets. Some He makes kings, some beggars. Me He made a hunter.” Zarroff does not feel that people have more value than animals. He knows Rainsford will be good game, and when he forces him to play the game it’s his fatal mistake.
Big-game hunters enjoy killing and enjoy the danger involved in killing certain wild animals. These can be the only reasons why men hunt such dangerous animals as lions, tigers, and those big African buffalos. Ernest Hemingway dramatizes the thrill of hunting and killing and risking death most effectively in "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber." Zaroff is only taking this enjoyment one step further in hunting and killing human beings. If it is a thrill to kill an animal, why shouldn't it be even more thrilling to kill a human being, especially one who is dangerous like Rainsford? It might be asserted that it is just as reasonable to kill a human for sport as it is to kill an animal for sport. At least this is Zaroff's point of view--and he is certainly not the only man in the world who feels that way. There must be many men who join military services all over the world because they like the excitement of killing people. The Nazis were notorious for that behavior. Fortunately, most men do not enjoy torturing and killing. No doubt the ones who, like Zaroff, do enjoy such "sport" are able to rationalize their behavior as he does. One common rationalization is that some people are superior to others and have a right to do whatever they like to inferior specimens. That was Raskolnikov's attitude in Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment. In the end he realized he had been mistaken.
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