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The Cay

Theodore Taylor

Theme: Learning from Different Cultures and Races
Grades: Grades 6-7

As The Cay opens, the threat of World War II has reached the Caribbean island on which Phillip Enright's American family lives. To escape danger, 11-year-old Phillip and his mother board a freighter which is torpedoed by a German submarine. As the ship goes down, Phillip is struck on the head and wakes up on a raft with an elderly West Indian sailor named Timothy. Phillip soon loses his sight as a result of the blow to his head. The two land on an isolated island, where Timothy provides for their survival. Over several months, Phillip overcomes his racist upbringing and Timothy trains the boy to be self-reliant. When a hurricane strikes, Timothy is killed while protecting his friend. After Phillip survives for another month, he is rescued and carries with him the legacy of Timothy's survival skills, wisdom, and friendship.

  1. Dedication.
    Begin by asking students to read, respond to, and discuss the dedication. Ask students to share what they know about Martin Luther King, Jr. Encourage them to consider what the dedication means and what they might expect from a novel with this kind of dedication.
  1. Tapping Prior Knowledge: The Caribbean.
    Engage students in a brainstorming session, recalling what they know about the culture, geography, and history of the Caribbean islands. Encourage students to suggest whatever ideas or information come to mind through free association. Then, with the class, organize their ideas into categories and challenge students to make generalizations about their impressions of the Caribbean.
  1. The Caribbean Mix.
    Through Timothy, we learn a little about the culture of the Caribbean. In this project, students will explore Caribbean culture by examining its history and roots in South American, indigenous Caribbean, European, and African cultures. They will also contribute to a class time line.

    Suggested Procedure:

  • Divide students into pairs or small groups and ask them to choose a West Indian country or territory to research.
  • Have students use the internet or the library to research the history of their countries from pre-colonial times to today. In particular, ask them to track the population changes and influence over the centuries. Who lived there first, and who settled there? Which cultural elements (language, religion, politics, music) are still noticeable today?
  • Ask each pair or group to give an oral presentation of their findings. At the end of the presentation, have them mark a class time line with major events such as the arrival of various groups and the date of independence (when applicable).
  • Together, have the class draw a large map of the entire region. Then have them draw arrows showing the large migrations from different continents to the different parts of the West Indies. Display both the finished time line and the map in your classroom.
  1. Learning About Other Cultures.
    Let students travel to the Caribbean via the Internet. Using a search engine, they can enter the keywords Caribbean, Curaçao, or Willemstad to find information about recreation, education, entertainment, government, or vacation possibilities. Have them present the information in the form of a brochure.
  1. The Words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    Instruct students to find a copy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Suggest that they may also want to use the library, history textbooks, or the internet to research King's life and ideas. Then, have them write an essay that shows how the speech and the dedication relate to the plot, characters, and/or theme of The Cay.

  2. People of the West Indies.
    Tell your students to research a famous person from the West Indies, such as political leader Fidel Castro, musician Bob Marley, author Jamaica Kincaid, or baseball great Roberto Clemente. Have them write a short biography that shows why this person is important.