In Theodore Taylor's book The Cay, what does Phillip not understand?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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All throughout Theodore Taylor's book The Cay, there are many times when Phillip proclaims he doesn't understand something on the island. One of the most significant moments takes place in Chapter 11.

In Chapter 11, Timothy begins fretting over the fact that they have not yet been sighted by a plane and rescued. Having lived his life practicing voodoo, he begins to believe that they have a "jumbi" on the island, meaning an evil spirit or bad luck. He also attributes Stew Cat as the source of the jumbi, explaining that the moment Stew Cat climbed aboard the raft, their luck turned in that first they were separated from other passengers in rescue boats; then, Phillip went blind; then, the raft floated to Devil's Mouth, an area where other ships cannot travel due to the number of coral reefs.

Phillip can't understand why Timothy would believe Stew Cat is a jumbi and begins fearing for Stew Cat's life. As Phillip phrases in his narrative, "Voodoo was silly, I knew, but it was also frightening" (p. 82). The next morning, Phillip can't find Stew Cat, and Timothy is evasive when asked what has happened to the cat. Timothy's evasiveness makes Phillip begin to fear for his own safety as well, fearing that Timothy is an old madman who might harm him along with Stew Cat. However, by the end of the day, Phillip discovers that Timothy had carved a model of Stew Cat out of wood and driven nails into it to "kill the evil jumbi"; Timothy also brings Stew Cat back into the hut and explains that he had put Stew Cat out on the waters in the raft long enough to "chase d'jumbi" (p. 87).

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