Study Guide

Mother in The Cay

By Theodore Taylor


Okay, we're going to put all of our cards on the table: we think the mom in The Cay is a pretty one-dimensional (or flat) character. All we really know about her is that she's a bit nervous (1.34); she misses her home in Virginia (1.49-53); and she isn't comfortable around black people – a bigoted view she passes on to her son (3.59).

The most interesting thing about her character is, we think, her strained relationship with Phillip. Phillip calls her a "coward" at one point and says that he "hates" her (2.34). He also blames her when he's stranded on the raft with Timothy (3.71-73).

The tension that's set up between Phillip and his mom is pretty riveting – and it might even have made for a great story of reconciliation and understanding at the end. The thing about it, though, is that Phillip's mom disappears after the S.S. Hato blows up and never enters into the story in a meaningful way again. It's true that Phillip is reunited with his parents at the end of the novel, and his mother holds him and says she's "sorry" (19.35). We also learn that his mother has "changed" and no longer wants to leave the island (19.39). But that's about it. We get no dialogue between the mother and her son – no explanation of how she has changed or what her relationship with Phillip will be like in the future. In this sense, she is little more than a sketch of a character. As the only substantial female character in this book, we think maybe she deserved a little more.

Brain Adventure: Write a brief story about what happens to Phillip's mom when Phillip is stranded on the cay. How does she change?