How would one summarize what happens in Theodore Taylor's The Cay?
To write a summary of a novel, you want to focus on explaining who the main characters are and what important events occur. The important events will relate to the conflict, the climax, and the resolution of the story. The conflict is the problem within the story; the climax is the most intense moment and turning point of the story, in which rising action becomes falling action; and the resolution is how the conflict is solved.
In Theodore Taylor's The Cay, the primary characters are Phillip, the protagonist, and Timothy, whom Phillip must look to for survival. The conflict occurs when the ship Phillip is traveling to America on is torpedoed by Germans during World War II, and Phillip finds himself stranded on a raft alone with someone he thinks is an "ugly black man" (p. 71). Since Phillip is battling for survival against nature and other external circumstances, we can call this a character vs. nature conflict. However, Phillip is also racist at the beginning of the book. What's more, once he goes blind due to a head injury, he feels completely useless. Therefore, the most dominant conflict is a character vs. self conflict.
Once Phillip goes blind, he also becomes color blind, shedding his racism and wanting to be Timothy's friend because he sees how much Timothy has done for him and knows he needs Timothy for survival. As the book progresses, Timothy teaches Phillip how to survive independently, despite his blindness, by teaching him how to move about the island, how to light the signal fire, and how to fish. Phillip even gains enough courage to climb the coconut tree, adding essential milk and fruit to their diet.
The character vs. nature conflict reaches its climax when the island is hit by a hurricane that Timothy reflects is out of season for July; hurricanes usually come later in September or October, August being the earliest:
But dis year, d'sea be angry wid all d'death upon it. D'wahr. (p. 103)
Timothy sacrifices his life to protect Phillip from the harshest winds of the storm. After Timothy's death, Phillip must survive on the island on his own, but is now fully prepared thanks to Timothy's wisdom and lessons. It is in early August that Phillip's signal fire is finally spotted by a plane, and he is rescued.