What's the difference between Zaroff and Rainsford in "The Most Dangerous Game"?

The main differences between Zaroff and Rainsford in "The Most Dangerous Game" concern their views regarding the value of human life and their interest in hunting. Zaroff does not value human life and callously murders vulnerable people on his private island. Zaroff is also a fanatical hunter and needs hunting to be content. In contrast, Rainsford values human life and views hunting as simply an engaging sport.

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The primary difference between General Zaroff and Sanger Rainsford concerns their views regarding the value of human life. General Zaroff is portrayed as a maniacal hunter who does not value human life and murders vulnerable people throughout Ship-Trap Island for the thrill of it. He harbors no "romantic ideas" about...

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The primary difference between General Zaroff and Sanger Rainsford concerns their views regarding the value of human life. General Zaroff is portrayed as a maniacal hunter who does not value human life and murders vulnerable people throughout Ship-Trap Island for the thrill of it. He harbors no "romantic ideas" about human life and has no qualms about hunting and killing people for his pleasure. Zaroff lacks a moral compass and does not find his actions inhumane or criminal. He even views Ivan's death as a "slight annoyance" and is more concerned that his quarry has escaped him. In addition to Zaroff's outlook regarding the value of human life, he also views hunting as a necessary aspect of his life. Zaroff is fanatical about hunting and cannot live without the thrill of the hunt. He is sentimentally attached to the sport and crosses every moral boundary to fulfill his need.

Although Sanger Rainsford is an avid, successful hunter, he does not feel that hunting is necessary for him to live. He is not fanatical about hunting like Zaroff, and a lack of hunting would not adversely influence his emotional well-being. Rainsford also values human life and is not willing to commit murder to fulfill his hunting needs. When Rainsford discovers that Zaroff hunts humans on his island during the most dangerous game, he is appalled and calls the general a murderer. Sanger Rainsford immediately recognizes that the general is deranged and uses his skill set to survive the most dangerous game.

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General Zaroff and Rainsford are both avid hunters, but they differ in one vital principle: the value of human life. When Rainsford falls off of a yacht and ends up on Zaroff’s island, Zaroff is at first charming, hospitable, and charismatic. He soon reveals, however, that he has developed a new form of game for his sport: humans. The following exchange between the two men demonstrates the difference between them:

"Hunting? Great Guns, General Zaroff, what you speak of is murder."

The general laughed with entire good nature. He regarded Rainsford quizzically. "I refuse to believe that so modern and civilized a young man as you seem to be harbors romantic ideas about the value of human life. Surely your experiences in the war--"

"Did not make me condone cold-blooded murder," finished Rainsford stiffly.

Rainsford learns that Zaroff has no regard for human life, a line he draws very clearly in his moral compass. At the start of the story, Rainsford expresses similar views in relation to hunting jaguars, claiming that they have no “understanding.” In his eyes, however, this does not apply to humans. Zaroff views things differently; his morality is skewed so that he does not view hunting humans as murder. The act to him is not inhumane. In fact, it is almost as if the general has no humanity at all. When he is hunting Rainsford on his island, the man notices the general’s “dead black eyes.” He is cold, almost unemotional in his beliefs, and seeking only the thrill of the hunt.

When he loses his right hand man in his “game” with Rainsford, the loss is only a “slight annoyance” to the general. He has no regard for any life, not even his own. This is seen at the end, when Rainsford surprises the general in his bedroom, prepared to kill him. Zaroff’s only response to his imminent demise is the joy of a good hunt. He congratulates Rainsford and accepts his defeat.

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Despite General Zaroff and Rainsford's many similarities, the two characters have drastically different ideas of morality and civility. The main difference between the two characters concerns General Zaroff's affinity for hunting humans. General Zaroff is a fanatical hunter, who enjoys chasing humans throughout Ship-Trap Island before he kills them. In contrast, Rainsford finds General Zaroff's propensity to hunt humans to be repulsive, malevolent, and wicked. Rainsford considers General Zaroff a maniacal murderer, who hides behind a veil of civility and aristocracy.

In addition to their opposite views concerning hunting humans, the two characters have different backgrounds. General Zaroff is a wealthy Russian Cossack with military experience, who hails from a noble family, while Rainsford is a world-renowned American hunter. Throughout the story, both characters also exhibit different personality traits. General Zaroff is portrayed as a calm, confident, eloquent man, while Rainsford is depicted as an overwhelmed, intense person, who is in a desperate situation. 

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At the ending of this story, it is not clear that there really is a difference between Rainsford and Zaroff.  At least, some have said that the ending implies that Rainsford may just step into Zaroff's place and start hunting himself.

However, you can argue that they are different, especially if you don't believe this interpretation of the ending.  While Rainsford does like to hunt, he does nothing that shows that he is brutal like Zaroff.  Rainsford does set all sorts of traps for Zaroff, but that is completely self-defense.  Rainsford kills Zaroff, not in self-defense, but it's hard to imagine what else he should have done -- go to sleep and hope Zaroff wouldn't come kill him?

So, I think that Rainsford is not cruel and inhuman like Zaroff is.  Rainsford is only violent when he needs to be.

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Zaroff and Rainsford are both hunters. Rainsford is world renowned for his skill as a hunter, but General Zaroff believes that he too is a skilled hunter and he has heard of and is excited to "hunt with" Rainsford. The biggest difference between the two is that Rainsford hunts big game that are only animals, while General Zaroff hunts what he calls "dangerous game" and that is humans. He believes that his "game" where he hunts a human for three days is fair and it intrigues him because he feels he has finally found his intellectual match in a hunt. He feels that only humans are cunning and clever enough to be hunted. Rainsford does not agree, but is forced to play. 

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