General Zaroff is a civilized man to the outside observer. In the reading of this story, Rainsford is rescued by him, clothed and fed by him. Rainsford has a pleasant and intelligent conversation with him. At this point, the reader respects Zaroff for his culture and class. When Zaroff explains why he has turned to hunting people, he does so with logic and calm reasoning. The reader, although put off by his hobby, is still left with the impression that this is a respectable man.
Throughout the story, Zaroff is particular about how the game is played. He plays fairly and sticks to his purpose of wanting a real competition. In the end, Rainsford has cheated by sneaking back into Zaroff's room and surprising him. Although Rainsford is the protagonist, the reader can feel sympathy for Zaroff's situation, being surprised at a turn of events that in close examination are a result of unfair play.