Sanger Rainsford is a well-known big game hunter and writer from New York. He is presently on his way to Rio de Janeiro, sailing the Caribbean in the relative luxury of a yacht. He has hunted all over the world, and his next objective is hunting jaguars along the Amazon River. Zaroff is a Russian Cossack and former general who hails from a wealthy background. His father owned thousands of acres in the Crimea, but Zaroff lost his lands when the czar was deposed. Turning his attentions to hunting, Zaroff, like Rainsford, traveled the world in search of the bigges game. Eventually, Zaroff built a magnificent chateau on little Ship-Trap Island where, bored with hunting wild animals, he turned to a more dangerous game.
Both of the men are accomplished at their sport. They both enjoy the finer things of life: Zaroff stocking his chateau with treasures from around the world and enjoying only the finest food, cigars and brandy. Rainsford is also used to a privileged lifestyle, leisurely sailing around the world in style while waiting for newly-ordered jaguar guns. Rainsford recognizes the quality of Zaroff's surroundings, and admires both the man and his tastes... at least until their opinions begin to differ on one important subject. Unlike Zaroff, Rainsford still enjoys the thrill of hunting wild game. "The best sport in the world," he says. Zaroff, meanwhile, has become bored with big game and has turned to the human kind. Rainsford is disgusted; he considers it murder. Zaroff explains that his human prey are "the scum of the earth," and that Rainsford's "scruples are quite ill-founded." Though he is of Russian royalty and adheres to a strict code of honor, Zaroff is a murderer; Rainsford (at least until the climactic conclusion) is not.