|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||105 pp (first edition, paperback)|
|Followed by||Timothy of the Cay|
The Cay took only three weeks to complete. Taylor based the character of the boy in his book on a child who was aboard the Hato, when it was torpedoed, who drifts out to sea on a lifeboat. The novel was published in 1969 and dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr.
When World War II breaks out, 11-year-old Phillip Enright and his mother board the S.S. Hato to Virginia because his mother feels it is unsafe to stay in Curaçao with the German submarines surrounding the area. The ship is torpedoed, and Phillip is stranded in the sea with an old black man named Timothy and a cat named Stew Cat. Drifting at sea, Phillip is blinded by a blow to the head during the torpedoing of the ship. They soon find an island in Devil's Mouth and build a hut while keeping track of the days by putting pebbles in a can. With few supplies, they live alone together for two months, fishing and collecting rain water. The cay is only 1 mile long and 1/2 a mile in width. Initially, the pair display significant difficulty in being able to tolerate and work with each other, often because of young white Phillip's racial prejudice against the elderly black Timothy. Phillip learns to overcome his disdain for Timothy and develops a strong bond of friendship by the end of the novel, as Timothy takes care of Phillip and teaches him to survive independently, to the point where Phillip doesn't need him anymore. Planes fly over the cay, but they do not see Timothy and Phillip, lengthening their time stranded there. After a hurricane hits the cay and Timothy dies from "being tired", Phillip, devastated, digs a small grave for him. He is left with only Stew Cat. Phillip is then rescued by a navy vessel and one year after he and Timothy find the island, he has many surgeries to get his sight back. In the end, Phillip decides he will become a sea explorer and travel to multiple islands and soon hopes to find the Cay he and Timothy had been stranded on, which he is certain he will be able to recognize by closing his eyes.
Phillip Enright: 11-year-old protagonist and narrator, is marooned on a cay in "The Devil's Mouth" with Timothy. Skeptical of Timothy at first because he is black, he relies on him when he is blinded and comes to appreciate him and creates a strong bond of friendship and trust with Timothy.
Timothy: West Indian native of Charlotte Amalie in Saint Thomas, is marooned with Phillip. He cares for Phillip and understands many survival tactics including fishing and shelter-building. Although at times superstitious, he is old, wise, and patient, stern, and helps Phillip learn to be self-sufficient.
Stew Cat: Feline companion of Phillip and Timothy on the cay, especially comforting for Phillip. Timothy at one point believes he may be an evil spirit called a Jumbi. Before the S.S. Hato was torpedoed, he was the cook's cat.
Phillip's Mother, Grace: Accompanies Phillip on the S.S. Hato headed for Virginia, is separated from him when it sinks. Notably racist against the black inhabitants of Curaçao.
Phillip's Father, Phillip Enright Sr.: Relocates the family to the Dutch West Indies for government-related work. He works in an oil refinery that increases the production of aviation gas.
Henrik van Boven: Phillip's Dutch-national friend in Curaçao; he does not understand Phillip's mother's disdain for blacks.
Phillip is in the beginning and throughout the early parts of the novel skeptical of blacks, which seems partially provoked by his mother, who is described as homesick for Virginia and unused to Curaçao. Phillip mentions that his mother did not like the blacks who worked on the bay, asking him and his friend Henrik not to go there and telling him that the blacks live differently than Phillip. Phillip doesn't understand why she feels this way, especially since Henrik finds it particularly unusual, but nevertheless, initially, it shows that he seems to have the same sentiments when dealing with Timothy.
Phillip finds that there are some similarities between himself and Timothy. On page 40, Timothy reveals he's from Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, to which Phillip responds that means he's American, citing the American purchase of the Virgin Islands from Denmark as a result of the Treaty of the Danish West Indies. Timothy only laughs and mentions that he never gave it much thought. Phillip seems unsure what to make of Timothy and asks if his parents were African; he notices that Timothy looked "pure African" and says he looked very much like men he'd seen in "jungle pictures", but Timothy says he has only ever known the Caribbean islands.
When Phillip ends up blind, he comes to rely upon Timothy to provide for him and teach him. This alters the dynamic of their relationship greatly. Timothy proves to a surprised Phillip that he has a great knowledge of the Caribbean islands and survival tactics, able to make shelter, gather food and water, and survive. He teaches these to Phillip so that he won't be an invalid. In turn, their bond strengthens and Phillip grows to admire and befriend Timothy. He is devastated at Timothy's death, makes a grave for him, and sobs.
When he returns to Curaçao, Phillip spends a lot of time with the workers of St. Anna Bay, many of whom knew Timothy and remember him fondly. Phillip notes that he feels close to those people; he no longer has any prejudice.
Published to both wide acclaim and pointed criticism for its impact as a promoter of racial harmony, The Cay received Jane Addams Children's Book Award in 1970. In 1974, when NBC-TV adapted its story for a television drama, the Council on Interracial Books for Children organized a press conference to "urge people to watch the telecast and, if you feel as we do, that an insidiously racist message is contained in the story, please call your local stations." As part of that press conference, the current chair of the Addams Award Committee, who was not the chair at the time the award was given to The Cay, publicly stated that she thought it was a mistake to have named The Cay an Addams Award winner for having a racist theme. In response, Taylor, who saw the work as "a subtle plea for better race relations and more understanding," returned the Award "by choice, not in anger, but with troubling questions." In later years, Taylor reported that the Award had been rescinded. Even though The Cay remains on the list of Addams Award winners, Taylor's claim is widely thought to be true and has become a part of reading and discussing the book as required reading in schools in dozens of U.S. states as well as internationally.
Adaptation and sequel
- The book was adapted into a TV film in 1974 with Alfred Lutter as Phillip, James Earl Jones as Timothy, and Gretchen Corbett as Phillip's mother. Phillip's father was not in the movie.
- In 1993, Taylor published Timothy of the Cay, a book which tells both of Phillip's life after and of Timothy's life before the ordeal.
- Stewart, Jocelyn Y. (October 28, 2006). "Theodore Taylor, 85; wrote 'The Cay' and other novels for the young". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 30, 2017.
- Taylor, Theodore (1969). The Cay. Random House. ISBN 0-440-22912-X.
- Taylor, Theodore (1969). The Cay. Random House. p. 17. ISBN 0-440-22912-X.
- Taylor, Theodore (1969). The Cay. Random House. p. 36. ISBN 0-440-22912-X.
- Taylor, Theodore (1969). The Cay. Random House. p. 40. ISBN 0-440-22912-X.
- Taylor, Theodore (1969). The Cay. Random House. p. 112. ISBN 0-440-22912-X.
- Taylor, Theodore (1969). The Cay. Random House. p. 136. ISBN 0-440-22912-X.
- Council on Interracial Books for Children (1975). "The Cay: A Position Paper". Top of the News. 31 (3): 282.
- Griffith, S. C. (2013). The Jane Addams Children’s Book Award: Honoring Children’s Literature for Peace and Social Justice since 1953. Lanham, NJ: Scarecrow Press. pp. 18–19.
- Miller, Stephen (2006-10-30). "Theodore Taylor, 85, Children's Novelist". New York Sun. Retrieved 2007-10-10.
- Taylor, T (1975). "In the Mailbag ... to the Editor". Top of the News. 31 (3): 284.
- Roginski, J.W. (1985). "Theodore Taylor". Behind the Covers: Interviews of Authors and Illustrators of Children's Books. Littleton, CO: Libraries Unlimited. p. 212.