General Zaroff, whose full name is never known, inhabits Ship-Trap Island, where he hunts "the most dangerous game": human beings. A Russian, an excellent host, and an excellent hunter, the general is the owner of an enormous, castle-like building which draws men who are stranded on the island. General Zaroff's seemingly amiable and polite nature belies his inner savagry. The general is a murderer who takes an intellectual interest in the murder of human beings as though they were animals. Below is an excerpt describing the general's physical appearance.
Rainford's first impression was that the man was singularly handsome; his second was that there was an original, almost bizarre quality about the general's face. He was a tall man past middle age, for his hair was a vivid white; but his thick eyebrows and pointed military mustache were as black as the night from which Rainsford had come. His eyes, too, were black and very bright. He had high cheekbones, a sharpcut nose, a spare, dark face--the face of a man used to giving orders, the face of an aristocrat.
Sanger Rainsford, the protagonist of the story, is an American hunter from New York. He is famous for his hunting prowess, as noted by both General Zaroff and Whitney, who states that Rainsford has "good eyes." Rainsford's initial attitude towards his prey is dismissive:
"...We should have some good hunting up the Amazon. Great sport, hunting."
"The best sport in the world," agreed Rainsford.
"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.
"Bah! They've no understanding."
"Even so, I rather think they understand one thing--fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death."
"Nonsense," laughed Rainsford. "This hot weather is making you soft, Whitney. Be a realist. The world is made up of two classes--the hunters and the huntees. Luckily, you and I are hunters..."
Despite this somewhat coarse and unsympathetic attitude, Rainsford is a moral man. He is shocked and indignant when General Zaroff reveals his hobby of hunting humans. Thrown into the position of prey, Rainsford becomes almost animalistic as he flees from the general's pursuit. The implication is that Rainsford has come to sympathize with and understand the plight of the hunted. Rainsford eventually beats the general at his own game and reemerges at the general's castle to take his revenge.
Ivan is General Zaroff's servant. Deaf and dumb, Ivan is a Cossack and "savage," according to the general. He is clearly a dangerous man, as General Zaroff threatens to turn his prey over to Ivan if they refuse to be hunted by the general.
"Suppose he refuses to be hunted?"
"Oh," said the general, "I give him his option, of course. He need not play that game if he doesn't wish to. If he does not wish to hunt, I turn him over to Ivan. Ivan once had the honor of serving as official knouter to the Great White Czar, and he has his own ideas of sport. Invariably, Mr. Rainsford, invariably they choose the hunt."