In The Cay by Theodore Taylor, it is 1939. Phillip and his parents leave Virginia and go to Curacao, off the coast of Venezuela, so that Phillip's father, an expert in refineries and petrol production, can help out with the war effort by working on a program to increase production of aviation fuel. Their lives on this Caribbean island, are quite different from their lives back in Virginia where they had lived in a small white house on an acre of land with many trees. Phillip's mother had felt much safer there than in their current location. Things are quite strained between his parents.
Phillip recalls Virginia fondly but, as he was only seven when they arrived in Curacao, he does not remember much. He thinks his mother must be homesick because, in Virginia "no one talked Dutch, and there was no smell of petrol or oil, and there weren't as many black people around."
The character of Phillip's mom is in no way salient in the novel due to her stagnant and flat nature. She is unable to adapt to change and sticks stubbornly to what she knows. As readers,we get merely the bare bones of her personality: she does not get well with Phillip, and she is a constant state of nervousness.
She seemed very nervous. But then she was often nervous. My mother was always afraid I'd fall off the sea wall, or tumble out of a tree, or cut myself with a pocketknife. Henrik's mother wasn't that way. She laughed a lot. She said, "Boys, boys, boys."
These facts take us to the reason why she feels homesick. First, she does not have a say in the family move from cold, rural Virginia down to tropical Curaçao. That fact alone puts her at odds with her family. She misses all that she knows and it is very hard to reconcile the differences between one place and the other.
The second reason is precisely those differences. The weather, the lifestyle, the people, and the culture shock of being surrounded by black people from the island have left Phillip's mom quite baffled. What limits her character, however, is her lack of interest in moving to the next level and get used to her new life. Her inability to change make her look quite poor personality-wise.
The third reason is that she is bigoted. One thing is to coexist among people who are different than us. A very different thing is to feel a strong bias against the people with whom we must coexist simply because we chose to build barriers of thought and feeling over matters such as ethnicity and race.
Out of all the factors that make Phillip's mom a deeply-flawed and limited character, this last reason is perhaps the most unfortunate.