Study Guide

The Cay Quotes

By Theodore Taylor

  • Race

    To Dr. King's dream,
    Which can only come true
    If the very young know and understand.
    (Dedication)

    Taylor begins his novel with a dedication to Martin Luther King, Jr., a leader in the American Civil Rights Movement. The dedication suggests that the book will explore race relationships and issues of equality.

    He crawled over toward me. His face couldn't have been blacker, or his teeth whiter. They made an alabaster trench in his mouth, and his pink-purple lips peeled back over them like the meat of a conch shell. He had a big welt, like a scar, on his left cheek. I knew he was West Indian. I had seen many of them in Willemstad, but he was the biggest one I'd ever seen. (3.17)

    Before he goes blind, Phillip gives us a physical description of Timothy, emphasizing how big and scary he is. What do you notice about the words Phillip chooses to describe Timothy? For example, why does he compare Timothy's teeth to an "alabaster trench" and his lips to a "conch shell"? What effect do these phrases have?

    Although I hadn't thought so before, I was now beginning to believe that my mother was right. She didn't like them. She didn't like it when Henrik and I would go down to St. Anna Bay and play near the schooners. But it was always fun. The black people would laugh at us and toss us bananas or papayas. (3.59)

    Phillip reveals that he has picked up negative ideas about black West Indians from his mother. Why doesn't she want her son to associate with the black people in Willemstad?

    He looked at me in the fading light and said softly, "We will 'ave no other food tonight. You bes' eat dem, young bahss." With that, he pressed a piece of the fish against his teeth, sucking at it noisily.

    Yes, they were different. They ate raw fish. (3.69-70)

    Phillip is pretty freaked out by Timothy's seemingly uncivilized meal of raw fish. He draws the conclusion that Timothy – and all black West Indian people – are "different" from him. Is Phillip right or wrong? Why does Timothy encourage Phillip to eat the fish?

    Once, our bodies touched. We both drew back, but I drew back faster. In Virginia, I knew they'd always lived in their sections of town, and us in ours. A few times, I'd gone down through the shacks of colored town with my father. They sold spicy crabs in one shack, I remember. (4.3)

    Phillip describes his segregated hometown back in Virginia, where white and black people lived separately. Is it easier to maintain racist views if you don't live alongside other races? Why or why not?

    "You say what you want." It was just that Timothy looked very much like the men I'd seen in jungle pictures. Flat nose and heavy lips.

    He shook his head. "I'ave no recollection o' anythin' 'cept dese islan's. 'Tis pure outrageous, but I do not remember anythin' 'bout a place called Afre-ca." (4.13)

    Phillip assumes that because Timothy is black he must be from Africa. What do we learn here about the differences between Phillip and Timothy? How does Timothy see himself?

    "You ugly black man! I won't do it! You're stupid, you can't even spell." (9.18)

    Frustrated when Timothy asks him to help weave sleeping mats, Phillip lashes out at him. He goes for some low blows and calls Timothy ugly, stupid, and illiterate. Phillip's judgments about Timothy are obviously incredibly superficial. How does Timothy respond?

    Wanting to hear it from Timothy, I asked him why there were different colors of skin, white and black, brown and red, and he laughed back, "Why b'feesh different color, or flower b'different color? I true don' know, Phill-eep, but I true tink beneath d'skin is all d'same." (10.13)

    Timothy tells Phillip that though humans have different colors of skin, they are all the same underneath. This message of equality will resonate with Phillip through the remainder of the book. Do you agree with Timothy?

    I moved close to Timothy's big body before I went to sleep. I remember smiling in the darkness. He felt neither white nor black. (10.16)

    Though he recoiled from Timothy's touch before, Phillip now sleeps close to him. Their relationship has become desegregated; that is, the barriers between them have broken down. Phillip's blindness has led to colorblindness.

    I had now been with him every moment of the day and night for two months, but I had not seen him. I remember that ugly welted face. But now, in my memory, it did not seem ugly at all. It seemed only kind and strong.

    I asked, "Timothy, are you still black?"

    His laughter filled the hut. (13.52-54)

    Phillip's blindness allows him to cast aside his preconceived notions and get to know Timothy in a different way. Why doesn't Phillip think of Timothy as black or white?

    The pilot had flown away, perhaps thinking I was just another native fisherman waving at an aircraft. I knew that the color of my skin was very dark now. (18.51)

    While he's definitely had a change of heart about race, Phillip has also become darker himself. How is this moment symbolic?

    I saw Henrik van Boven occasionally, but it wasn't the same as when we'd played the Dutch or the British. He seemed very young. So I spent a lot of time along St. Anna Bay, and at the Ruyterkade market talking to the black people. I liked the sound of their voices. Some of them had known old Timothy from Charlotte Amalie. I felt close to them. (19.40)

    Phillip realizes it's not race that binds you to someone – it's shared experiences and values. Why does he no longer connect with Henrik van Boven? What does he have in common with the West Indian people in St. Anna Bay?

  • Friendship

    I stole away down to the old fort with Henrik van Boven, my Dutch friend who was also eleven.

    I had played there many times with Henrik and other boys when we were a few years younger, imagining we were defending Willemstad against pirates or even the British. (1.8-9)

    What is Henrik and Phillip's friendship based on? How does it reflect their age?

    My mother was right, I thought. They had their place and we had ours. He did not really like me, or he would have taken me along. He was different. (8.11)

    Phillip thinks Timothy isn't his friend because the older man sometimes leaves him alone on the island. Why does Timothy do this? Does this make him a friend or a foe?

    Suddenly, the tears came out. I knew it was not a manly thing to do, something my father would have frowned on, but I couldn't stop. Then from nowhere came Stew Cat. He rubbed along my arms and up against my cheek, purring hard. I held him close. (8.16)

    Stew may only be a cat, but he's an important friend for Phillip on the island, offering solace and comfort when Phillip faces tough times.

    Something happened to me that day on the cay. I'm not quite sure what it was even now, but I had begun to change.

    I said to Timothy, "I want to be your friend."

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

    I said, "Can you call me Phillip instead of young boss?"
    "Phill-eep," he said warmly. (9.27-31)

    Phillip eventually accepts Timothy as a friend and asks him to be his friend in return. Timothy says he's been Phillip's friend all along. What has changed in Phillip, and why? Why does Phillip ask Timothy to call him by his first name? What does this symbolize?

    We talked for a long time when the rain began to slack off. Timothy asked me about my mother and father. I told him all about them and about how we live in Scharloo, getting very lonesome and homesick while I was telling him. He kept saying, "Ah, dat be true?" (10.7)

    Timothy and Phillip become closer friends by sharing their stories. Hearing about each other's lives before their time on the island leads to a greater intimacy between the two.

    I trusted Timothy, and kept telling myself that he wouldn't harm me, but it was the whole mysterious jumbi thing that was frightening. (11.51)

    Though they are friends, there are still parts of Timothy's culture and background that are scary or confusing for Phillip. For example, he starts to briefly fear Timothy when the old man becomes convinced that Stew Cat is to blame for their bad luck on the island.

    I brought water down from the hut, raised his head, and ordered him to drink it. With one hand, I found his lips and then guided the cup to his chin. He seemed to understand and gulped it down. (12.19)

    While Timothy has always been a friend to Phillip, now Phillip starts to act as a friend to Timothy. In a moment of role reversal, Phillip must care for Timothy when he is struck with fever.

    I had now been with him every moment of the day and night for two months, but I had not seen him. I remember that ugly welted face. But now, in my memory, it did not seem ugly at all. It seemed only kind and strong.

    I asked, "Timothy, are you still black?"

    His laughter filled the hut. (13.52-54)

    Phillip's blindness allows him to cast aside his preconceived notions about Timothy and get to know him in a different way. Why does Phillip no longer think of Timothy as black? What is it about his view of Timothy that has changed?

    I buried Timothy, placing stones at the head of the grave to mark it. I didn't know what to say over the grave. I said, "Thank you, Timothy," and then turned my face to the sky. I said, "Take care of him God, he was good to me." (16.5)

    After Timothy gives his life to protect Phillip in the storm, the young boy finally realizes all that Timothy has done for him. Here he expresses his gratitude for his friend.

    I saw Henrik van Boven occasionally, but it wasn't the same as when we'd played the Dutch or the British. He seemed very young. So I spent a lot of time along St. Anna Bay, and at the Ruyterkade market talking to the black people. I liked the sound of their voices. Some of them had known old Timothy from Charlotte Amalie. I felt close to them. (19.40)

    When Phillip returns to Willemstad, he no longer connects with Henrik van Boven in the same way. Their previous friendship was based on their similar age and innocent view of the world. What has changed in Phillip?

  • Violence

    Like silent, hungry sharks that swim in the darkness of the sea, the German submarines arrived in the middle of the night. (1.1)

    The novel begins with this image of the German submarines preying on the islands. Why does the author compare the German submarines to sharks? How is man-made violence connected to violence in the natural world?

    I was not frightened, just terribly excited. War was something I'd heard a lot about, but had never seen. The whole world was at war, and now it had come to us in the warm, blue Caribbean. (1.5)

    At 11 years old, Phillip is as innocent as they come. Having no experience of the violence of war, he is excited by the arrival of the Germans in the Caribbean.

    Then I began to wonder if the Germans would send soldiers too. About nine-thirty I sneaked out of bed, went to the tool house, and took a hatchet out. I put it under the couch. It was the only thing I could think of to use for fighting the Germans. (2.3)

    Phillip begins to fear the Germans, so he arms himself with a hatchet. What else might Phillip have done besides arming himself? Is there ever a nonviolent solution to violence?

    Some of the women cried at the sight of her, and I saw men, my father included, with tears in their eyes. It didn't seem possible that only a few hours before I had been standing on her deck. I was no longer excited about the war; I had begun to understand that it meant death and destruction. (2.28)

    Witnessing the explosion of the <em>Empire Tern </em>drastically changes Phillip's views on war. War is no longer a game; it's a violent act that causes harm to others.

    Everything was bright red, and there were great crackling noises. The entire afterpart of the ship was on fire, and sailors were launching the lifeboat that was on our deck. Steam lines had broken, and the steam was hissing out. Heat from the fire washed over us. (3.6)

    Violence comes closer and closer to Phillip's life. Here the Germans attack the <em>S.S. Hato</em> while Phillip and his mother are on board. As a result, Phillip is blinded. Now he has firsthand experience with the kinds of harm that can come from war.

    Something slapped up against my leg, and I thought it was Timothy. I knew how to swim, but didn't know which way to go. So I was treading water. Then I heard Timothy's frightened roar, "Sharks," and he was thrashing about near me. (6.4)

    Even though they've escaped the German subs, Phillip and Timothy still face the danger of the natural world. The ocean is filled with bloodthirsty sharks.

    I stood 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.

    Stunned, I touched my face where he'd hit me.

    Then I turned away from where I thought he was. My cheek stung, but I wouldn't let him see me with tears in my eyes. (9.18-21)

    After friction mounts between them, Timothy and Phillip are involved in a violent exchange. Phillip abusively screams at Timothy, and Timothy hits Phillip. Phillip now finally sees Timothy's point of view. Do you agree that escalating violence can make someone change for the better? How is this moment a turning point for Phillip's character? In what other ways might Timothy and Phillip have resolved their issues?

    Excited, I asked, "Who's shooting?"

    "D'sea," he said.

    I laughed at him, "The sea can't shoot a rifle."

    "'A crack like d'rifle," he said, worry in his voice. "It can make d'shot all right, all right. It b'tell us a veree bad starm is comin', Phill-eep. A tempis'." (14.5-8)

    Here the violence of the natural world is associated with the violence of war – the sea is imagined as shooting a rifle. How does war compare to the tempest? How are they similar? How are they different?

    Rain was now slashing into the hut, and the wind was reaching a steady howl. The crash of the surf was sounding closer; I wondered if it was already beginning to push up toward our hill. (15.9)

    The hurricane wrecks the island. Notice the violent verbs used to describe the storm: "slashing" and "crash."

    Timothy had been cut to ribbons by the wind, which drove the rain and tiny grains of sand before it. It had flayed his back and legs until there were very few places that weren't cut. (15.39)

    Timothy sacrifices himself for Phillip in the face of the storm's unstoppable violence. Phillip notes the damage done to Timothy by the winds and sand.

    Wondering what had caused the birds to attack me, I felt around in the sand. Soon, my hand touched a warm shell. I couldn't blame the birds very much. I'd accidentally walked into their new nesting ground.

    They were fighting for survival, after the storm, just as I was. (16.32-33)

    The birds attack Phillip when he invades their nesting ground. How is this moment symbolic? Can you connect this moment on the cay to the novel's backdrop of war?

    Pain shooting up my entire arm, I lay panting on the edge of the pool and gingerly began to feel my wrist. It was bleeding, but not badly. But the teeth had sunk in deep. (17.19)

    Phillip searches a hole for lobster and gets bitten by a moray eel. What does this teach Phillip (aside from the obvious: getting bitten stinks)? Why doesn't he ever go back to the hole again?

  • Transformation

    Some of the women cried at the sight of her, and I saw men, my father included, with tears in their eyes. It didn't seem possible that only a few hours before I had been standing on her deck. I was no longer excited about the war; I had begun to understand that it meant death and destruction. (2.28)

    Phillip is no longer excited about the arrival of the German submarines in the Caribbean. Witnessing the explosion of the <em>Empire Tern </em>forces him to realize that war means "death and destruction" – not excitement and games.

    I'll never forget that first hour of knowing I was blind. I was so frightened that it was hard for me to breathe. It was as if I'd been put inside something that was all dark and I couldn't get out.

    I remember that at one point my fear turned to anger. Anger at Timothy for not letting me stay in the water with my mother, and anger at her because I was on the raft. I began hitting him and I remember him saying, "If dat will make you bettah, go 'ead." (4.64-65)

    Phillip is injured when a torpedo hits the <em>S.S. Hato, </em>and he eventually goes blind. The blindness causes a massive change in his life. Here Phillip sees only darkness and becomes angry at those around him. How might the darkness also become a positive force in Phillip's life?

    Something happened to me that day on the cay. I'm not quite sure what it was even now, but I had begun to change.

    I said to Timothy, "I want to be your friend."

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

    I said, "Can you call me Phillip instead of young boss?"
    "Phill-eep," he said warmly. (9.27-31)

    After Phillip and Timothy fight, Phillip realizes that Timothy is trying to help him. Phillip then accepts Timothy as his friend. Phillip says he doesn't know why he began to change. What do you think is happening inside him?

    Suddenly, I wished my father and mother could see us there together on the little island.

    I moved close to Timothy's big body before I went to sleep. I remember smiling in the darkness. He felt neither white nor black. (10.15-16)

    While Phillip initially thinks Timothy is very different because of his race, Phillip comes to see Timothy as "neither white nor black." What does Phillip mean by this? How has Phillip's perception of Timothy changed?

    I tried to imagine how I looked. I knew my shirt and pants were in tatters. My hair felt ropy. There was no way to comb it. I wondered how my eyes looked and asked Timothy about that.

    "Dey look widout cease," he said. "Dey stare, Phill-eep."

    "Do they bother you?"

    Timothy laughed. "Not me. Eeevery day I think what rare good luck I 'ave dat you be 'ere wid my own self on dis outrageous, hombug islan'." (10.29-32)

    Phillip's exterior has definitely changed, but what else has changed? Notice that his staring, blind eyes don't bother Timothy in the least. Why might that be?       

    I helped him to his feet, and we went up the hill together, Timothy leaning on me for support for the first time. He never really regained his strength. (12.26)

    After Timothy comes down with a fever, there is a role reversal in his relationship with Phillip. Now it's Phillip who must be the protector.

    Squirming and jumping in my hand, it was small but fat. I grinned over toward Timothy. When I had fished before, it was fun. Now, I felt I had done something very special. I was learning to do things all over again, by touch and feel. (13.21)

    The blind Phillip must learn to do everything in a new way. Things that once seemed ordinary now take on a new meaning.

    Squatting near me, his teeth crunching the coconut, Timothy said, "You see, Phill-eep, you do not need d'eye now. You 'ave done widout d'eye what I couldn't do wid my whole body."

    It was almost as if I'd graduated from the survival course that Timothy had been putting me through since we landed on the cay. (13.49-50)

    With a little prompting, Phillip finally climbs the coconut tree. This event symbolizes both his independence and his willingness to do things for other people.

    I had now been with him every moment of the day and night for two months, but I had not seen him. I remember that ugly welted face. But now, in my memory, it did not seem ugly at all. It seemed only kind and strong.

    I asked, "Timothy, are you still black?"

    His laughter filled the hut. (13.52-54)

    Phillip's blindness allows him to cast aside his preconceived notions and get to know Timothy in a different way. Phillip's views of Timothy are completely transformed here.

    There was no day or night that passed when I didn't listen for sounds from the sky. Both my sense of touch and my sense of hearing were beginning to make up for my lack of sight. I separated the sound and each became different. (18.1)

    Phillip's blindness forces him to learn to interact with the world in a whole new way. His sense of touch and hearing compensate for his lack of vision. How is Phillip's blindness a metaphor in the novel?

    The pilot had flown away, perhaps thinking I was just another native fisherman waving at an aircraft. I knew that the color of my skin was very dark now. (18.51)

    Phillip has become darker after spending so many months on the cay. How is this moment symbolic?

    I saw Henrik van Boven occasionally, but it wasn't the same as when we'd played the Dutch or the British. He seemed very young. So I spent a lot of time along St. Anna Bay, and at the Ruyterkade market talking to the black people. I liked the sound of their voices. Some of them had known old Timothy from Charlotte Amalie. I felt close to them. (19.40)

    Phillip returns to his home, but he no longer feels a strong connection with Henrik van Boven. Henrik represents youth and innocence, while Phillip has changed dramatically, gaining real-life experience and maturity.

  • Man and the Natural World

    Like silent, hungry sharks that swim in the darkness of the sea, the German submarines arrived in the middle of the night. (1.1)

    The novel begins with this image of the German subs preying on the islands. Why does Taylor compare the German submarines to sharks? How does this comparison influence the way you think of the Germans during World War II?

    Standing on the sea wall at Willemstad, sometimes I'd see their fins in the water. I'd also seen them on the dock at the Ruyterkade market, their mouth open and those sharp teeth grinning. (5.26)

    Sharks are a natural predator in the ocean and make several appearances in the book. What other predators does Phillip encounter?

    His eyes were becoming mine. "What's in the sky, Timothy?"

    "In the sky?" He searchd it. "no clouds, young bahss, jus' blue like 'tawas yestiddy. But now an' den, I see a petrel. While ago, a booby…"

    I laughed for the first time all day. It was a funny name for a bird. "A booby?"

    Timothy was quite serious. "Dis booby I saw was a blue face, mebbe nestin' out o' Serranilla Bank, mebbe not. Dey be feedin' on d'flyin' feesh. I true watching' d'birds 'cause dey tell us we veree close to d'shore." (5.35-38)

    Timothy is Phillip's link to his surroundings and the natural world. Timothy's sight becomes Phillip's. How does Timothy treat the natural world? Are birds a help to him? In what way?

    Something slapped up against my leg, and I thought it was Timothy. I knew how to swim, but didn't know which way to go. So I was treading water. Then I heard Timothy's frightened roar, "Sharks," and he was thrashing about near me. (6.4)

    Phillip falls into the water and is nearly attacked by sharks. Here is the natural world at its most dangerous.

    "D'place I am thinking of is call Debil's Mout'. 'Tis a U-shaped ting, wit dese sharp coral banks on either side runnin' maybe forth, fifty mile…" (7.50)

    The cay Timothy and Phillip are stranded on is remote and treacherous. Why is it called Devil's Mouth? Does the cay deserve this name?

    I liked the rain because it was something I could hear and feel; not something I must see. It peppered in bursts against the frond roof, and I could hear the drips as it leaked through. The squall wind was in the tops of the palms and I could imagine how they looked in the night sky, thrashing against each other high over our little cay.

    I wanted it to rain all night. (10.5-6)

    Though Phillip has experienced rainfall many times, he enjoys it more now because it's something he can "hear and feel," not something he has to see to appreciate.

    I crawled out of the hut and began to call for Stew. Then I called for Timothy. There was no answer. I went down the hill and headed up the beach toward the reef. Voodoo was silly, I knew, but it was also frightening. I couldn't understand why Timothy thought Stew Cat was the jumbi. (11.22)

    As a practitioner of voodoo, Timothy has superstitious ideas about the natural world. He blames their bad luck on the cat.

    We often talked about the cay and what was on it. Timothy had not thought much about it. He took it for granted that the cay was always there, but I told him about geography, and how maybe a volcano could have caused the Devil's Mouth. He'd listen in fascination, almost speechless. (13.26)

    Having gone to school, Phillip has a much more scientific view of nature than Timothy. It's clear here that Timothy has something to learn from Phillip. What does Phillip have to learn from Timothy?

    Rain was now slashing into the hut, and the wind was reaching a steady howl. The crash of the surf was sounding closer; I wondered if it was already beginning to push up toward our hill. (15.9)

    As the storm takes over the island, the natural world is represented as aggressive and violent. Notice the verbs used to describe it: "slashing" and "crash."

    Wondering what had caused the birds to attack me, I felt around in the sand. Soon, my hand touched a warm shell. I couldn't blame the birds very much. I'd accidentally walked into their new nesting ground.

    They were fighting for survival, after the storm, just as I was. (16.32-33)

    The birds attack Phillip when he invades their nesting ground. How might we relate this moment to human events in the book (war, for example)?

    Since then, I've spent many hours looking at charts of the Caribbean. I've found Roncador, Rosalind, Quito, Sueno, and Serranilla Banks; I've found Beacon Cay and North Cay, and the islands of Providencia and San Andres. I've also found the Devil's Mouth.

    Someday, I'll charter a schooner out of Panama and explore the Devil's Mouth. I hope to find the lonely little island where Timothy is buried. (19.42-43)

    The end of the novel shows Phillip studying maps of the Caribbean. Why does he want to return to the cay?

  • Appearances

    He crawled over toward me. His face couldn't have been blacker, or his teeth whiter. They made an alabaster trench in his mouth, and his pink-purple lips peeled back over them like the meat of a conch shell. He had a big welt, like a scar, on his left cheek. I knew he was West Indian. I had seen many of them in Willemstad, but he was the biggest one I'd ever seen. (3.17)

    Phillip describes Timothy's physical appearance here, emphasizing how big and scary he is. What do you notice about Phillip's choice of words? Why does he compare Timothy's teeth to an "alabaster trench" and his lips to a "conch shell"? What effect do these phrases have on us as readers?

    Once, our bodies touched. We both drew back, but I drew back faster. In Virginia, I knew they'd always lived in their sections of town, and us in ours. A few times, I'd gone down through the shacks of colored town with my father. They sold spicy crabs in one shack, I remember. (4.3)

    Phillip describes his segregated hometown back in Virginia. How has racial segregation shaped Phillip's reaction to Timothy?

    I'll never forget that first hour of knowing I was blind. I was so frightened that it was hard for me to breathe. It was as if I'd been put inside something that was all dark and I couldn't get out. (4.64)

    Once Timothy goes blind, he can no longer judge people, places, or things by their appearance. Why is Phillip frightened by this? What does the darkness symbolize, in your opinion?

    During those first few days on the island, the times I spent alone were terrible. It was, of course, being unable to see that made all the sounds so frightening. I guess if you are born blind it is not so bad. You grow up knowing each sound and what it means. (8.15)

    Phillip feels alone and fearful after losing his vision – especially when Timothy's not around. How will Phillip conquer his fear?

    "You ugly black man! I won't do it! You're stupid, you can't even spell." (9.18)

    Phillip lashes out here and insults Timothy, calling him "stupid" and "ugly." Why is Phillip so angry? What picture of Timothy does he have in his head? Is this how you see Timothy's character?

    Wanting to hear it from Timothy, I asked him why there were different colors of skin, white and black, brown and red, and he laughed back, "Why b'feesh different color, or flower b'different color? I true don' know, Phill-eep, but I true tink beneath d'skin is all d'same." (10.13)

    Timothy tells Phillip that although humans may look different on the surface, they are all the same underneath. Do you agree?

    I tried to imagine how I looked. I knew my shirt and pants were in tatters. My hair felt ropy. There was no way to comb it. I wondered how my eyes looked and asked Timothy about that.

    "Dey look widout cease," he said. "Dey stare, Phill-eep."

    "Do they bother you?"

    Timothy laughed. "Not me. Eevery day I think what rare good luck I 'ave dat you be 'ere wid my own self on dis outrageous, hombug islan'." (10.29-32)

    Phillip's exterior has definitely changed, but what else has? Even though Phillip's eyes stare absently, they don't bother Timothy. Why not?

    From walking over it, feeling it, and listening to it, I think I knew what our cay looked like. As Timothy said, it was shaped like a melon, or a turtle, sloped up from the sea to our ridge where the palms flapped all day and night in the light trade wind. (11.3)

    Phillip has to stop judging by appearances because, well, he's blind. How does he know what the beach looks like? What new ways of seeing does he discover?

    I had now been with him every moment of the day and night for two months, but I had not seen him. I remember that ugly welted face. But now, in my memory, it did not seem ugly at all. It seemed only kind and strong.

    I asked, "Timothy, are you still black?"

    His laughter filled the hut. (13.52-54)

    Phillip's blindness allows him to cast aside his preconceived notions about race and get to know Timothy in a different way. Why does Phillip ask Timothy if he is still "black"? How would you have responded if you were Timothy?

    There was no day or night that passed when I didn't listen for sounds from the sky. Both my sense of touch and my sense of hearing were beginning to make up for my lack of sight. I separated the sound and each became different. (18.1)

    After losing his sight, Phillip has to learn to interact with the world in a whole new way. His sense of touch and hearing compensate for his loss of vision.

    The pilot had flown away, perhaps thinking I was just another native fisherman waving at an aircraft. I knew that the color of my skin was very dark now. (18.51)

    Months of exposure to the sun on the island have turned Phillip a darker color. How is this moment symbolic?

    Maybe I won't know it by sight, but when I go ashore and close my eyes, I'll know this was our own cay. I'll walk along east beach and out to the reef. I'll go up the hill to the row of palm trees and stand by his grave. (19.44)

    Phillip dreams of returning to the cay one day. How will he recognize the cay if he's never actually seen it?

  • Sacrifice

    Then my mother pointed. I saw a tall man standing on the wall of Fort Amsterdam, waving at us. I knew it was my father. I'll never forget that tall, lonely figure standing on the sea wall. (2.47)

    Even though his family is leaving Curaçao, Phillip's dad stays behind because of the war.

    I'll never forget that first hour of knowing I was blind. I was so frightened that it was hard for me to breathe. It was as if I'd been put inside something that was all dark and I couldn't get out.

    I remember that at one point my fear turned to anger. Anger at Timothy for not letting me stay in the water with my mother, and anger at her because I was on the raft. I began hitting him and I remember him saying, "If dat will make you bettah, go 'ead." (4.64-65)

    Even though he is blameless, Timothy lets Phillip hit him, selflessly absorbing the child's anger. Why does Timothy let Phillip treat him this way?

    He grabbed my hair with one hand and used his other arm to drag me back toward the raft. I had turned on my face and was trying to hold my breath. Then I felt my body being thrown, and I was back on the boards of the raft, gasping for air. I knew that Timothy was still in the water because I could hear splashing and cursing. (6.5)

    Timothy risks his life to save Phillip from the shark-infested waters.

    With me on his back, he splashed ashore, and judging from the time it took, the raft wasn't very far out. Then he lifted me down again. (7.7)

    Timothy carries Phillip on his back to the shore of the cay. What does this moment symbolize?

    I was starting to be less dependent on the vine rope, and sometimes it seemed to me that Timothy was trying hard to make me independent of him. I thought I knew why, but I did not talk to him about it. I did not want to think about the possibility of Timothy dying and leaving me alone on the cay. (11.10)

    We learn that Timothy is training Phillip to be independent so the child can survive after he is gone.

    Yet I could not help worrying. The thought of losing either of them was unbearable. If something bad happened on the cay, I wanted it to happen to all of us. (14.12)

    Having grown to love Timothy and Stew Cat, Phillip would rather die with them than remain alone on the island.

    Soon I felt water around my ankles. Then it washed to my knees. It would go back and then crash against us again. Timothy was taking the full blows of the storm, sheltering me with his body. When the water receded, it would tug at us, and Timothy's strength would fight against it. I could feel the steel in his arms as the water tried to suck us away. (15.16)

    Timothy shields Phillip with his body amidst the violent winds and waves of the hurricane.

    Timothy had been cut to ribbons by the wind, which drove the rain and the grains of sand before it. It had flayed his back and his legs until there were very few places that weren't cut. He was bleeding, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. I found his hard, horny hand again, wrapped mine around it, and lay down beside him. (15.39)

    Timothy sacrificed his life for Phillip during the storm. Here we see how badly his body was cut and bruised.

    I followed it around to the lee side with my fingers. And there they were! Not two or three, but at least a dozen, lashed together, each with a barbed hook and bolt sinker. They were one more part of the legacy Timothy had left me. (16.15)

    Even in death, Timothy is still helping Phillip.

  • Contrasting Regions: Virginia and Curaçao

    So when I woke up there was much excitement in the city, which looks like a part of old Holland, except that all the houses are painted in soft colors, pinks and greens and blues, and there are no dikes. (1.3)

    While the island of Curaçao is in the Caribbean, it was invaded by the Dutch in 1634. The Dutch restyled the island in their own image and turned it into a hub of the slave trade. The island is self-governing today, although it's still part of the "Kingdom of the Netherlands." (Learn more about the history of Curaçao here.)

    I had played there many times with Henrik and other boys when we were a few years younger, imagining we were defending Willemstad against pirates or even the British. They once stormed the island, I knew, long ago. Or sometimes we'd pretend we were the Dutch going out on raids against Spanish galleons. That had happened too. It was all so real that sometimes we could see the tall masted ships coming over the horizon. (1.9)

    The island of Curaçao has always been a center of commerce – whether of oil or humans (slaves). That means lots of different cultures can be found mixing and mingling there, usually for purposes of trade or conquest. Henrik references the history of the island through his allusions to the British, the Dutch, and the Spanish, who invaded the island in 1499.

    It was very different in Virginia where my father had been in charge of building a new refinery on the banks of the Elizabeth River. We'd lived in a small white house on an acre of land with many trees. My mother often talked about the house and the trees; about the change of seasons and the friends she had there. She said it was nice and safe in Virginia. (1.50)

    Phillip's mother idealizes Virginia as a place that's distant from everything she fears in Curaçao. In what ways, though, are the two places really similar?

    I guess my mother was homesick for Virginia, where no one talked Dutch, and there was no smell of gas or oil, and there weren't as many black people around. (1.53)

    What is it about Curaçao that Phillip's mother dislikes, according to him?

    I thought about leaving the island, and it saddened me. I loved the old fort, and the schooners, the Ruyterkade market with the noisy chickens and squealing pigs, the black people shouting; I loved the koenoekoe with its giant cactus; the divi-divi trees, their odd branches all on the leeward side of the trunk; the beautiful sandy beach at Westpunt. And I'd miss Henrik van Boven. (2.11)

    Unlike his mother, Phillip loves the landmarks and life on the island of Curaçao. Why are their perspectives so different?

    Once, our bodies touched. We both drew back, but I drew back faster. In Virginia, I knew they'd always lived in their sections of town, and us in ours. A few times, I'd gone down through the shacks of colored town with my father. They sold spicy crabs in one shack, I remember.

    I saw them mostly in the summer, down by the river, fishing or swimming naked, but I didn't really know any of them. And in Willemstad, I didn't know them very well either. (4.4-5)

    As Phillip pulls away from Timothy on the raft, his experience with black people in both Virginia and the West Indies seems very similar. In both places, blacks and white tend to live separately.

    I asked, "Timothy, where is your home?"

    "St. Thomas," he said. "Charlotte Amalie, on St. Thomas." He added, "'Tis a Virgin Islan'."

    "Then you are American," I said. I remembered from school that we had bought the Virgins from Denmark.

    He laughed, "I suppose, young bahss. I never gave it much thought. I sail all d'islan's, as well as Venezuela, Colombo, Panama. I jus' nevar gave it much thought I was American." (4.9)

    Phillip tells Timothy that the Dutch sold his island, St. Thomas, to America. But who lived on St. Thomas before the Dutch invaded it? What happened to them? And what does it mean for Phillip and Timothy to both technically be Americans?

    I trusted Timothy, and kept telling myself that he wouldn't harm me, but it was the whole mysterious jumbi thing that was frightening. (11.51)

    Though they are friends, there are parts of Timothy's culture and background that are scary or confusing for Phillip. One of these is his belief in voodoo, part of his Caribbean heritage.

    I saw Henrik van Boven occasionally, but it wasn't the same as when we'd played the Dutch or the British. He seemed very young. So I spent a lot of time along St. Anna Bay, and at the Ruyterkade market talking to the black people. I liked the sound of their voices. Some of them had known old Timothy from Charlotte Amalie. I felt close to them. (19.40)

    After his return to Curaçao, Phillip finds he no longer connects with his former friend Henrik. Instead, he spends time with the black West Indian people. Why do you think this is?

  • Family

    She seemed very nervous. But then she was often nervous. My mother was always afraid I'd fall off the sea wall, or tumble out of a tree, or cut myself with a pocketknife. Henrik's mother wasn't that way. She laughed a lot. She said, "Boys, boys, boys." (1.34)

    Phillip's relationship with his mother is a tense one. Here he describes her as worried and overprotective. Why might Phillip's mother be so anxious?

    Until the past year, my father and I had done a lot of things together. Fishing or sailing our small boat, or taking long hikes around Krup Bay or Seroe Male, or just out into the <em>koenoekoe, </em>the countryside, together. He knew a lot about trees and fish and birds. But now he always seemed busy. Even on a Sunday, he'd shake his head and say, "I'm sorry, guy, I have to work." (1.37)

    Check out the things Phillip used to do with his dad – outdoor activities like hiking and fishing. Sounds a lot like the things Phillip ends up doing with Timothy, doesn't it? Can you think of any other similarities between Phillip's dad and Timothy?

    Suddenly, I felt hollow inside. Then I became angry and accused her of being a coward. She told me to go off to school. I said I hated her. (2.34)

    Phillip doesn't understand his mother's desire to leave the island, and the two clash over it. Phillip is pretty harsh here, calling his mother a "coward" and saying that he hates her. Is his attitude justified? Do these two ever resolve their issues?

    Then my mother pointed. I saw a tall man standing on the wall of Fort Amsterdam, waving at us. I knew it was my father. I'll never forget that tall, lonely figure standing on the sea wall. (2.47)

    Phillip's dad stays behind in Willemstad because of the war and his job with Dutch Shell. What does the lonely figure standing on the wall symbolize to Phillip?

    Although I hadn't thought so before, I was now beginning to believe that my mother was right. She didn't like them. She didn't like it when Henrik and I would go down to St. Anna Bay and play near the schooners. But it was always fun. The black people would laugh at us and toss us bananas or papayas. (3.59)

    Phillip reveals that he has inherited his ideas about race from his mother. Why doesn't she want her son to associate with the black people on Curaçao? Why is Phillip starting to think that his mother is "right"?

    I turned away from him, over on my stomach. I thought about Curaçao, warm and safe; about our gabled house in Scharloo, and about my father. Suddenly I blamed my mother because I was on the raft with this stubborn old black man. It was all her fault. She'd wanted to leave the island.

    I blurted out, "I wouldn't even be here with you if it wasn't for my mother."

    I knew Timothy was staring at me through the darkness when he said, "She started dis terrible whar, eh, young bahss?" He was a shadowy shape across the raft. (3.71-73)

    While Phillip blames his mother for the fact that he's a castaway, Timothy is able to see the bigger picture. What does Timothy understand that Phillip does not?

    Suddenly, the tears came out. I knew it was not a manly thing to do, something my father would have frowned on, but I couldn't stop. Then from nowhere came Stew Cat. He rubbed along my arms and up against my cheek, purring hard. I held him close. (8.16)

    Phillip tries to live up to his father's ideas about manhood but isn't able to keep himself from crying. When in the book does Phillip's own father cry?

    Suddenly, I wished my father and mother could see us there together on the little island.

    I moved close to Timothy's big body before I went to sleep. I remember smiling in the darkness. He felt neither white nor black. (10.15-16)

    Phillip's perception of Timothy has completely changed. What would his mother think? What about his father?

    In early April, I returned to Willemstad with my mother, and we took up life where it had been left off the previous April. After I'd been officially reported lost at sea, she'd gone back to Curaçao to be with my father. She had changed in many ways. She had no thoughts of leaving the islands now. (19.39)

    Phillip is reunited with his mother, and he tells us that she has "changed in many ways." What do you think this means? Why don't we learn more than this?