Statesville, North Carolina
One of writer Theodore Taylor's best-known books, The Cay, has been highly controversial for its depiction of an interracial friendship.
The story, he told Norma Bagnall, “is fiction but based partially on fact, and the characters are drawn from real life. In 1955–56, I was researching an adult book on submarine warfare, and I came across an incident involving a small Dutch vessel. I had sailed those waters during the war, and I had also lived in the Caribbean for almost two years after the war. So I knew something about the people. For the character of Phillip, I used a boyhood friend whose mother hated blacks, any blacks. In turn, she tragically transferred that hatred to my friend. I'd known a number of West Indian sailors, one in particular, and they collectively became my Timothy. I combined the incident with the characters and out of that came The Cay. Even the cat had a true-life counterpart. It is a fictional story against a true background.”
The story, which takes place during World War II, is “both a war survival story and one of overcoming prejudice,” Charlotte S. Huck and Doris Young Kuhn said. “After the Germans torpedoed the freighter on which Phillip and his mother were traveling from wartime Curacao to the U.S., Phillip finds himself cast up on a barren little Caribbean island with an old black man named Timothy. A blow on the head during the wreck had left Phillip blind and completely dependent upon Timothy. Born in Virginia of Southern parents, Phillip was prejudiced toward blacks. Timothy, who has been criticized for being an 'Uncle Tom,' probably really was one.…