General Zaroff is bored with hunting animals.
General Zaroff is a talented hunter. He also grew up rich and entitled. These are two dangerous characteristics. Because of them, he feels he can make his own rules, and doesn’t have to follow society’s.
Hunting is very, very important to General Zaroff. In fact, when he sees Sanger Rainsford show up at this door, he knows immediately who he is. Rainsford is a hunter too, and quite a famous one. He is expert enough to have written books on the subject.
"Perhaps," said General Zaroff, "you were surprised that I recognized your name. You see, I read all books on hunting published in English, French, and Russian. I have but one passion in my life, Mr. Rainsford, and it is the hunt."
Zaroff, however, is not content with just hunting animals. Somewhere along the line, he decided that the worst thing in the world is to be bored. For him, being bored is deadly. Zaroff had been hunting ever since he was a little boy. He got so good at it that animals ceased to interest him. That in itself would not be so terrible. However, there was something in Zaroff’s personality that made him afraid to be bored.
“…I was lying in my tent with a splitting headache one night when a terrible thought pushed its way into my mind. Hunting was beginning to bore me! And hunting, remember, had been my life. I have heard that in America businessmen often go to pieces when they give up the business that has been their life."
In the effort to avoid this terrible fate, of losing the one thing that defines him, Zaroff goes off and creates his own little world on a Caribbean island. Here, he has total control of his surroundings. He can do what he wants, and no one can stop him. He has twisted morality to become whatever suits his needs. After all, to him, the world is made of the weak and the strong. The strong are meant to live. The weak are meant to die.
"Oh," said the general, "it supplies me with the most exciting hunting in the world. No other hunting compares with it for an instant. Every day I hunt, and I never grow bored now, for I have a quarry with which I can match my wits."
Rainsford realizes he is hunting men. When Rainsford questions him about this, telling him that what he is doing is murder, Zaroff scoffs at the idea. He is enjoying himself, after all. The men are given a choice (they can be killed by Ivan instead), and they are given a chance, to evade Zaroff during the hunt. Of course, it is not a fair fight, and Zaroff knows this. He is the one with the gun.
This man is completely neurotic, narcissistic, and delusional. Being alone on an island does not give him the right to trap and murder men, or make his own rules of right and wrong. Being stronger also does not give him the right to kill, nor does being rich. In the end, Rainsford is his downfall. Rainsford turned out to be much more dangerous game than he could handle.