|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||105 pp (first edition, paperback)|
|Followed by||Timothy of the Cay|
The Cay took only three weeks to complete. Taylor based the character of the boy in his book on a child who was aboard the Hato, when it was torpedoed, who drifts out to sea on a lifeboat. The novel was published in 1969 and dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr.
When World War 2 breaks out, 12 year old Phillip Enright and his mother board the S.S. Hato to Virginia because his mother feels it's unsafe to stay in Curaçao with the German submarines surrounding the area. The ship is torpedoed, and Phillip is blinded shortly after a blow on the head and is stranded in the sea with an old black man named Timothy and a black cat named Stew Cat. Soon they find an island in Devil's Mouth and build a hut while keeping track of the days by putting pebbles in a can. With few supplies, they live alone together for two months. The cay is only 1 mile long and 1/2 a mile in width. In the opening chapters of the book, the pair display significant difficulty in being able to tolerate and work with each other, partly because of young white Phillip's racial prejudice against the elderly black Timothy. Phillip learns to overcome his disdain for Timothy, and develops a strong bond of friendship by the end of the novel. Their relationship changes rapidly throughout the novel starting with Phillip hating Timothy and him showing signs of bigotry. Timothy takes care of Phillip and teaches him to survive independently, to the point where Phillip doesn't need Timothy anymore. Phillip is blind for most of the story, and heavily relies on Timothy for a long time on the island until he adapts to being blind. After, a hurricane hits the cay and Timothy dies, Phillip digs a small grave for him. He is left with only Stew Cat. Phillip is then rescued by a navy vessel and a year after he and Timothy find the island, he has surgery to get his sight back. In the end Phillip becomes a sea explorer and travels to multiple islands, and soon hopes to find the Cay he and Timothy had been stranded on.
The Cay received Jane Addams Children's Book Award in 1970, but following criticism of the book, in 1976 the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom asked Taylor to return the award. Taylor complied, but stated the work was "a subtle plea for better race relations and more understanding." The book later became required reading in schools in dozens of U.S. states as well as internationally.
Adaptation and sequel
- The book was adapted into a one-hour TV drama in 1974 with Alfred Lutter as Phillip, James Earl Jones as Timothy, and Gretchen Corbett as Phillip's mother.
- In 1993, Taylor published Timothy of the Cay, a book which tells both of Phillip's life after and of Timothy's life before the ordeal.
- Miller, Stephen (2006-10-30). "Theodore Taylor, 85, Children's Novelist". New York Sun. Retrieved 2010-09-25.