The Cay is dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of racial equality. King's dream and the novel focus on race relations between blacks and whites. Yet the author transcends this specific focus by setting his story against the backdrop of World War II. The Germans who threaten the waters around Curacao have gone down in history for their violent, systematic murdering of the Jewish people.
Germany's actions were founded on extreme racial prejudice, which permeated their entire society. This backdrop serves as a warning against all prejudice everywhere, and in context of the story, it highlights the social prejudice against black people. Phillip's mother is from Virginia, which was once a slave-holding state.
At the time of the story, black people were still segregated in Virginia. This segregation leads to fear of the unknown, expressed as prejudice. Phillip's mother does not like black people, because she does not know them; she is afraid of their cultural differences
The most prevalent prejudice in the novel is seen between Timothy and Phillip. Both have succumb to the way the world had treated people of color during the 1940s. Segregation was still a part of normal cultural society. Phillip looked upon Timothy, when he could see, with disdain because of the color of his skin and Timothy immediately fell into a submissive role with Phillip, calling him, "Bahss". Phillip also thought that because Timothy was so old that he would not be very capable (this is known as ageism), Timothy, time and time again, proved his survival skills and protected Phillip with his life. It was not until Phillip lost his sight that he actually saw Timothy for the man he truly was. The two formed a unique friendship even though they were very different. The world during this decade was struggling with a lot of prejudices as well. The story takes place during the middle of World War II when Nazi Germany was annihilating Jewish people and any dissidents who did not agree with the Nazi creed. The United States was struggling with its view of the Japanese as a result of the bombings at Pearl Harbor. It was a decade in the world that was filled with a lot of hate, misconceptions, and snap judgements made about people. Hopefully the world has learned from those years of hate and history never repeats itself.