Why did Timothy slap Phillip in The Cay?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Young Phillip's impudence finally becomes too much for old Timothy in Theodore Taylor's novel, The Cay. After arriving on the island, Timothy attempts to teach the now blind Phillip about self-reliance, beginning with how to weave a palm mat, but the boy's frustrations about their situation overcomes him.

    I tried again, but it didn't work. I stod up, threw the palm fibers at him, and screamed, "You ugly black man! I won't do it! You're stupid, you can't even spell..."
    Timothy's heavy hand struck my face sharply.

The young boy's rudeness causes Timothy to temporarily lose his temper, but the old man is soon his normal self again, singing "that fungee and feesh song in a low voice." After some reflection, Phillip realizes his own mistake in overestimating Timothy's lack of intelligence, and he tells the old man that "I want to be your friend."

    He said softly, "Young bahss, you 'ave always been my friend."