what do Randy and the other understand that phrase to mean?
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In this context, survival of the fittest applies to the community's ability to make do and pull together. Loss of life in the community can be attributed to both lack of strength and refusal to do what is necessary.
1) Survival skills included the knowledge of meat preservation.
2) People need to hone their survival skills and study the mentality and danger that surrounds them.
3) Survival includes the knowledge of working with fire. The inexperienced were responsible for multiple deaths.
4) Fort Respose lost people to diabetes, dysentery runs rampant.
Randy's response to all of the above and to Florence's bird being eaten by a cat......
"The strong survive. The frail die. The exotic fish die because the aquarium isn’t heated. The common guppy lives. So does the tough catfish. The house cat turns hunter and eats the pet bird. If he didn’t, he’d starve. That’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s going to be." (146)