Having told his friend Whitney that he did not care how the prey felt in the midst of being pursued by the hunter, Sanger Rainsford surprisingly finds himself in the very position of the one who is hunted. He then begins to rethink his previously held beliefs about prey, as well as his beliefs about killing.
After he swims ashore on Ship-Trap Island and discovers the chateau of General Zaroff, Rainsford's ideas about hunting are challenged by the jaded hunter who has lost his enthusiasm for hunting animals. He informs Rainsford,
Life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong, and, if need be, taken by the strong. The weak of the world were put here to give the strong pleasure. I am strong.
These words, which are not too different from the earlier thoughts that Rainsford has expressed to Whitney about hunting, soon frighten Rainsford as he learns that he is to be the prey to give Zaroff his "pleasure." It is at this point that Sanger Rainsford's internal conflicts begin.
Internal conflict: Rainsford starts to have a new perspective about the prey of a hunt.
As he becomes the one pursued, Rainsford does not feel the excitement of the sport anymore. He begins to realize the fear that the hunted animal feels. On the first day, after the general somehow succeeds in following Rainsford's intricate and divergent trail through the jungle, Rainsford is surprised to see his enemy's smoke rings waft upward toward where he thinks he is hidden in a tree. He feels a shudder of horror when he sees that the general smiles and then turns back.
Internal conflict: Rainsford strives to prevent fear and panic from overcoming him.
After he realizes that General Zaroff has successfully trailed him, Rainsford concludes in horror that the general is not in the least worried about capturing his prey since he leaves him for another day's adventure. This realization by Rainsford causes "cold horror" to run through his entire being. In a forced effort to regain control of his faculties, Rainsford repeats to himself, "I will not lose my nerve. I will not." Later, he draws on his knowledge and experience to create a Malay man-catcher. When the general approaches it, the experienced hunter recognizes the trap in enough time to jump back, receiving only a glancing blow on his shoulder. Nursing his injured shoulder, Zaroff returns to his chateau.
Next, Rainsford digs a pit and plants spikes in the bottom of it; he then camouflages the opening with a rough carpet of tree limbs, weeds, and small branches. When he hears his pursuer approaching at night, Rainsford hides. "He lived a year in a minute" as he waits. Someone falls into the pit, but it is only one of Zaroff's dogs. The general compliments Rainsford on his Burmese tiger pit and then thanks his prey for an amusing evening.
Internal conflict: Rainsford wrestles with his feelings about killing another man.
Sanger Rainsford is convinced from what Zaroff has told him, as well as from the gunshots and screams that he heard when he first swam ashore, that the "game" will only end with either his or Zaroff's death.
During the days that Rainsford is hunted, he is forced to question his ethical beliefs. He struggles with his desire to survive and his feelings about killing another human being. Knowing that Zaroff will kill him unless he can first kill the general, Rainsford has a crisis of conscience. In order to save himself, Rainsford creates deadly traps, knowing that Zaroff can die if he falls a certain way. Further, this crisis seems to be resolved at the story's end with Rainsford's thoughts of never having slept in a better bed, even though the reader is not explicitly informed of the result of the duel between Zaroff and Rainsford.