Throughout The Cay, Philip undergoes a transformation from being spoiled and inconsiderate to having greater self-awareness and respect for others. A significant part of this change is overcoming the racism that this white boy's family instilled in him. The experiences of being blinded, orphaned, stranded, fearful, and dependent on a black man combine to force the boy to confront his assumptions and to develop trust in a person who he had been raised to view as inferior.
Initially he has no choice but to accept Timothy's kindness and care, although he lashes out at him. The child's resentment gradually fades away, and he becomes capable of imagining a relationship of friendship and equality. Although he cannot pinpoint the nature of the change, he can express his desire: "I want to be your friend," he tells Timothy, who states that he always has been his friend.