What happens in The Cay?

When World War II breaks out, eleven-year-old Philip Enright leaves the island nation of Curaçao with his frightened mother. Their ship is torpedoed by German submarines, and Philip is blinded in the attack.

  • Philip finds himself stranded at sea with an elderly black man named Timothy and a cat named Stew Cat. Eventually, the group drifts toward an island in Devil's Mouth, where they build themselves a hut. For two months, the group lives together, fishing along the cay, or coral reef.
  • However, life on the island is complicated by Philip's racism. As a young white man, Philip feels little sympathy for the older Timothy, and he must learn to set aside his prejudices in order to co-habitate. Eventually, he and Timothy strike up a friendship.
  • After a big hurricane hits the cay, Timothy dies of exhaustion. Emotionally wrecked, Philip buries Timothy in a small grave. Philip and Stew Cat are later rescued by a navy vessel. Philip undergoes surgery to correct his blindness.

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Summary

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The Cay is the suspenseful story of a young boy, handicapped by blindness and thrust into an unfamiliar environment, who is forced to grow up quickly. Young readers can identify with Phillip's struggle for independence and his frustration in coping with situations over which he has virtually no control. Phillip's survival depends upon his learning to follow Timothy's instructions and to respect the power of nature. He jeopardizes his life each time he forgets past lessons, but those lapses—whether from carelessness, fear, or despair— make Phillip a very believable character.

(The entire section is 225 words.)