He did not know how long it took, but later he looked back on this time of crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn't work. It wasn't just that it was wrong to do, or that it was considered incorrect. It was more than that—it didn't work.
In Chapter 8 Brian articulates what he considers "the most important rule of survival." This moment represents a pivotal point in the novel's development and in the development of Brian's character. Although there are other pivotal moments, most notably Brian's suicide attempts and his subsequent emotional rebirth of sorts, this quote touches upon the first time that Brian adopts this thought process. This realization crops up countless times later in the book, and renews Brian's resolve to remain positive and motivated toward action.
He was not the same. The plane passing changed him, the disappointment cut him down and made him new. He was not the same and would never be again like he had been. That was one of the true things, the new things. And the other one was the he would not die, he would not let death in again.
This quote from Chapter 13 gives the reader a sense of Brian's thought process after his suicide attempt, which followed the incident when the plane flew overhead and did not spot him below. When Brian emerges from his spirit of hopelessness and self-destruction, he becomes determined to change himself forever. He embraces life with a new vivacity. This change in mindset is so clear to him that he actually recognizes himself as the "new Brian," equating lapses in his new attitude to behavior to which the "old Brian" would submit. This quote arguably provides the climax of the novel, as it irrevocably and profoundly alters the protagonist.
Never. Never in all the food, all the hamburgers and malts, all the fries or meals at home, never in all the candy or pies or cakes, never in all the roasts or steaks or pizzas, never in all the submarine sandwiches, never never never had he tasted anything as fine as that first bite.
This quote comes at the end of Chapter 15, when Brian sits down to reap the reward of his first successful foolbird hunting expedition. It speaks to the value of self-sufficiency. Brian compares all the meals he has ever had to this one, and finds that they pale in comparison. Food had been so easily accessible in the city and at home that it almost never occurred to him to concern himself about it. In the wilderness, on the other hand, finding food was the central concern for both Brian and the many animals with which he shared the wilderness. With this new need to survive and to make a life for himself, Brian became skilled and determined in providing for himself. This self-sufficiency meant that every accomplishment had significance, was genuinely an accomplishment rather than a convenience. As a result the food had a uniquely satisfying and delicious flavor—the sweet reward of hard work.
Come on, he thought, baring his teeth in the darkness—come on. Is that the best you can do—is that all you can hit me with—a moose and a tornado? Well, he thought, holding his ribs and smiling, then spitting mosquitoes out of his mouth. Well, that won't get the job done. That was the difference now. He had changed, and he was tough. I'm tough where it counts—tough in the head.
In the aftermath of the moose attack and the tornado, in Chapter 16, Brian resolves to overcome the setbacks of the day. While the rapidity of these events and the seriousness of their consequences baffle Brian, he immediately takes action to remedy the situation and to restore what has been lost. He rises to the challenge the day presents, and this quote certainly attests to that. He also recognizes here that his mind is the most important element to survival. He has learned this lesson in earlier incidents in the book; here he confirms it and uses it to build up his resolve.
It was a strange feeling, holding the rifle. It somehow removed him from everything around him. Without the rifle he had to fit in, to be part of it all, to understand it and use it—the woods, all of it. With the rifle, suddenly, he didn't have to know; did not have to get close to a foolbird to kill it—didn't have to know how it would stand if he didn't look at it and moved off to the side.
In Chapter 19 Brian finds the rifle in the plane's survival pack. Surprised by its presence, Brian finds that it seems out of place in the natural environment. Although his life in the wilderness presented many challenges, and daily life presented complications he had not even considered before landing in the woods, he found that self-sufficiency contained a certain appeal and nobility that the rifle negated. The rifle also represents an intrusion of technology onto nature. While Brian had used simple tools such as a bow and arrow and a fish spear to survive in the woods, the rifle was a far more sophisticated piece of weaponry. It indeed had the potential to make his hunting faster and easier, but this benefit did not appeal to Brian. His rejection of the rifle demonstrates that his experience in the woods has completely altered his lifestyle.