In Theodore Taylor's young reader's novel The Cay, what causes the relationship between Phillip and Timothy to shift?

Expert Answers
Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the beginning of Theodore Taylor's The Cay, protagonist Phillip is emotionally immature and stuck in the prejudices he has been taught; however, the more he needs to rely on Timothy and the more he learns from Timothy, the more he sheds his prejudices and becomes very close to Timothy.

At the start of World War II, Phillip had moved with his family from Virginia to the Caribbean island of Curaçao because his father had been solicited for the war effort for his skills in oil refinery. When German submarines attack Aruba, Phillip's mother grows uneasy and wants to move back to Virginia despite her husband's warnings that traveling at this point would be unsafe. Regardless, they board the S.S. Hato headed for Miami, which is torpedoed and sinks. Phillip finds himself having been rescued from the wreckage by a black Caribbean named Timothy and pulled on board a raft. Timothy was the biggest, darkest black man Phillip had ever seen and, due to Phillip's prejudices, he at first finds Timothy ugly. Phillip's prejudices had been fed by his mother's own prejudices, who used to warn Phillip not to trust black people:

They are not the same as you, Phillip. They are different and they live differently. That's the way it must be. (Ch. 3)

However, Phillip had also been very severely hit in the head during the shipwreck and soon finds himself blind and relying on Timothy for survival. At different points in the early chapters of the story, Timothy rescues Phillip from falling off of the raft, takes them to a cay where he thinks they will have a better chance of survival,  builds a fire pit for a signal fire, builds a shelter, and fishes for their meals. Soon after they settle on the cay, Timothy begins weaving a rope out of vines that extends from their shelter down to the fire pit. The rope is for Phillip to use to navigate on his own to the pit and light the fire should a plane come and should Timothy be out fishing. He also encourages Phillip to work and get accustomed to his blindness, teaching him to weave mats out of palm fronds for them to sleep on. At first, Phillip stubbornly refuses, but he is soon brought to his senses when he realizes that Timothy is selfishly making a rope for Phillip's needs. As Phillip phrases it, something happened inside of him that day to change him, making him turn to Timothy and say, "I want to be your friend." He is very touched when Timothy's reply is, "Young bahss, you 'ave always been my friend." Phillip then asks Timothy to call him Phillip instead of "young boss" (Ch. 9).

As the story continues to progress, Phillip cares for Timothy the best he can when he comes down with Malaria, and Timothy gives his life for Phillip as he shelters Phillip from a fierce hurricane.