How was Phillip selfish in the novel The Cay?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Cay by Theodore Taylor, Phillip and his mother must leave Curacao as Phillip's mother no longer considers the area safe, although his father will stay behind to continue his job on the refinery there. In an effort to get home to Virginia, they will travel to Miami via Panama on the S.S.Hato. However, the ship is torpedoed and during the evacuation, Phillip is separated from his mother and finds himself afloat on a raft with Timothy, who he describes as "a huge, very old Negro." 

Phillip is just a child and behaves characteristically, putting his own needs first and only thinking about the effects on him rather than considering Timothy's viewpoint. He complains about the water which Timothy insists that they drink cautiously so as to have enough to drink and he blames his mother for his situation but Timothy tries to put it in perspective for him when he says, "she started dis terrible wahr, eh, young bahss?"

When Phillip suddenly becomes blind, he is scared and can hardly breathe. He takes out his anger on Timothy but Timothy accepts it if it will help Phillip feel better. It takes Phillip quite some time before he learns to trust and respect Timothy, especially as he has certain preconceptions regarding Timothy, even feeling superior to him when he realizes that Timothy can apparently not read. However, Phillip undergoes quite a transformation and learns to consider Timothy as his "friend," his prejudice and boyish selfishness forgotten.