General Zaroff’s refined mannerisms conceal a maniacal desire to inflict suffering and death for his own amusement. In many ways, Zaroff considers himself a god who can snuff out life as he pleases. Zaroffs’s madness stems from a life of wealth, luxury, and militarism, which inflate his ego and sense of entitlement and impose few limits on his desires. Zaroff began hunting at an early age when he shot his father’s prized turkeys and continually sought out bigger game in his family’s tract of wilderness in the Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea. Commanding a division of Cossack cavalrymen in Russia, meanwhile, familiarized Zaroff with the horrors and atrocities of warfare. His bloodlust and passion for hunting eventually prompted him to hunt men, the most cunning and challenging prey he could find.
Accustomed to death, General Zaroff has lost the ability to distinguish men from beasts, suggesting that he has slipped into barbarism and lost his humanity. The sanctioned violence of his youth and early manhood drained the general of his empathy and capacity to make moral judgments. His passion for the hunt and love of the refined, meanwhile, led him to devalue human life. In fact, Zaroff even praises his thoroughbred hounds over the lives of the sailors he hunts. Connell describes Zaroff’s sharp pointed teeth and smacking red lips to dehumanize him and highlight his predatory nature. Ironically, Rainsford discovers that General Zaroff is far more repulsive than the “scum” he disdainfully hunts, devoid of all emotion and humanity despite his seeming gentility.