How long did Phillip stay on the island for in The Cay?

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Jonathan Beutlich eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The ship that Phillip is on gets torpedoed on April 6, 1942. Chapter 5 then tells readers that Phillip in still on the raft 3 days after that date. On the fourth day, Timothy sees the island. The story indicates that Phillip and Timothy wash ashore on the little cay later that day. That would be April 10, 1942. Timothy and Phillip have no reliable way to keep track of time other than putting pebbles into a can to count the days. We don't get a lot of detail about the can, but just before the storm hits, readers are told that the can has 48 pebbles. The storm happens, and Timothy dies. Then in chapter 17, we read that 10 more pebbles go into the can. This ballparks the time on the island to around 60 total days. Then in chapter 18, readers are given a very specific date. We are told that on August 20, 1942 Phillip thinks he hears thunder. It turns out it isn't thunder, and Phillip will eventually be spotted by a passing aircraft. He is rescued by a ship around noon the next day, August 21, 1942. If April 10 is the starting date, and August 21 is the ending date, then Phillip was on the cay for a total of 133 days. That's roughly four and a half months.

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price7781 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Phillip and Timothy are marooned on the small island for about two months before Phillip is rescued and reunited with his parents. During that time, Phillip learns many things from Timothy.  He learns how to navigate the island using only a cane and how to survive the many challenges the island gives them.  Although Phillip’s blindness limits his physical abilities, the lack of sight helps him see Timothy in a new light, so to speak.  Phillip has some preconceived prejudices about black people that he brings with him to the island.  Through Timothy’s guidance, and despite some misunderstandings and arguments, Phillip is able to overcome his racial prejudices and learn to love Timothy.  Timothy ends up saving Phillip’s life by protecting him during a hurricane, and Phillip shows his love for Timothy by saying he will be a sailor when he grows up.

In a few short months filled with obstacles, hardships, and a little bad luck, accepting the humanity of a black man forever changed Phillip’s life.

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