The Cay Summary

Theodore Taylor

The Cay

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The Cay Summary

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World War Two breaks out, and eleven-year-old Phillip and his mother leave their home in Curaçao aboard the S. S. Hato bound for Virginia, because she feels the Caribbean island is no longer safe. During the trip, the ship is torpedoed by a German U-Boat. As a result, Phillip is stranded in the sea with an old black man named Timothy and a cat named Stew Cat (which Timothy at one point thinks might be an evil spirit).

While they are adrift, Phillip is blinded by the sun bouncing off the water. They eventually come upon an island in Devil’s Mouth, where they build themselves a hut, and keep track of the days by putting pebbles in a can. They live there for two months, collecting rain water and fishing along a coral reef, or cay.

Life for the pair is complicated by Phillip’s racism. He’s white, and prejudiced against the older man on account of his race. But Timothy is wise in the ways of survival—and a little superstitious—and helpfully teaches Phillip survival techniques. As the two learn to survive together on the island, Phillip sets his racism aside, and a friendship between the two of them blossoms.

A plane flies overhead, but fails to see the two castaways.

Shortly after, the cay is hit by a tremendous hurricane. In the flooding from the storm, Timothy dies, “from being tired.” Phillip is emotionally devastated, and buries Timothy in a shallow grave.

Phillip and Stew Cat are eventually rescued by a Navy ship. Phillip undergoes many surgeries to restore his sight, and decides to become a sea explorer, hoping to once again find the island that saved him.

The major theme of the novel is racism. Phillip’s racism toward Timothy seems to come from his mother, and when he finds himself marooned with a black man, Phillip brings his racism with him. After losing his sight and coming to rely upon and then learn from Timothy, Phillip gradually replaces his racism with respect and affection for his new friend.

Phillip’s blindness is connected to the revelation he experiences after receiving Timothy’s assistance. While blind, Phillip can finally see people for who they really are, beyond their skin color.

The Cay has been both celebrated and attacked for its treatment of racism, although recent interpretations of the novel agree that the book’s overall message is one of tolerance and embracing people of all races.

As a novel written for a Young Adult audience, The Cay has both been taught in and banned from public schools.