Topics for Discussion
1. Early in the novel the narrator describes his mock battles with his friends and the submarine attacks upon Aruba and Curacao. How do these details help to prepare the reader for Phillip's later experience? What emotions are aroused by the destruction of the S.S. Empire Tern?
2. Henrik Van Boven is Phillip's closest friend in Curacao. How has Phillip's attitude toward Henrik changed after his stay on the cay?
3. Henrik and his mother are very different from Phillip and Grace Enright. Why does Taylor emphasize these differences?
4. Grace Enright hates living in Curacao. What are some of the things she objects to? Is Taylor's portrayal of Mrs. Enright largely based on gender stereotypes? Is the negative portrait balanced by the fact that she remains calm when the S.S. Hato is torpedoed?
5. Phillip always speaks admiringly of his father. How does Taylor indicate the closeness of their relationship? Does Timothy eventually become a substitute father? How are the two relationships similar? How are they different?
6. Phillip remembers life in three places: Norfolk (Virginia), Willemstad (Curacao), and the cay. How does he feel about each place? How does his life differ in these places? What part does each location play in his maturation?
7. At different times, Phillip considers his loss of sight both an advantage and a handicap. When is it a handicap? When is it an advantage? What changes Phillip's attitude toward his blindness?
8. Some critics have described The Cay as racist, alleging that Timothy is portrayed as a stereotypical black man. They object to the description of his physical appearance, the language he uses, and his...
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