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The Cay, Essential Revision Notes

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Table of Contents

The Cay by Theodore Taylor 4

Summary 4

Themes and Supporting Quotations 6

Race 6

Friendship 10

Violence 13

Transformation 17

Man and Nature 21

Appearances 25

Sacrifice 29

Contrasting Places 32

Family 35

The Cay by Theodore Taylor


The novel opens, and we're given the initial setup. It's 1942. We're on the Caribbean island of Curaçao, and World War II is under way. The island is being stalked by German submarines that arrived during the night-time and are targeting the area's oil refineries and tankers.

We're also introduced to the protagonist, Phillip, a young schoolboy who has never seen war before. He's "not frightened, just terribly excited". Don't worry; that will change. We also meet Phillip's father, who works for one of the oil refineries and is the reason the family relocated from Virginia to Curaçao. Phillip and his dad have always been close – unlike his relationship with his mom. She's a bit of a nervous type and (as we will find out later) kind of racist. There's also Henrik van Boven, Phillip's school friend who is Dutch and with whom he plays around the city of Willemstad, the capital of Curaçao.

The arrival of the German submarines spells trouble for Willemstad. The oil tankers are in danger and many of the sailors refuse to get on board for fear of being torpedoed and sunk. Phillip's mother wants to go back to Virginia with her son, which creates tension with Phillip's father. Once the German submarines blow up the S.S. Empire Tern, a big British tanker, she decides to leave once and for all and is determined to take Phillip with her. Phillip wants to stay on the island with his dad, but his mom books passage for him to sail with her on a ship called the S.S. Hato.

As luck would have it, the Hato is torpedoed by the Germans. Phillip is knocked out during his evacuation from the ship. When he finally comes to, he is no longer on one of the lifeboats. Inst...

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