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Timothy as a Father Figure for Phillip Throughout “The Cay” Essay

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Updated: Aug 22nd, 2022

The concept of a father figure is important in human culture, both in real life and in works of literature. Interestingly, the idea does not always mean a biological father. On the contrary, many stories reflect situations in which people outside a child’s family can become a major influence. The Cay illustrates how fatherhood can be different depending on the context while extending beyond the constructs of family, culture, and race. In the situation described by Theodore Taylor, Timothy becomes the ultimate father figure for Phillip by helping him survive in a very dangerous environment.

The story of The Cay revolves around an 11-year-old boy who lives with his family in the Caribbean. When Nazi submarines surround the area, he is forced to flee with his family aboard a U.S. navy ship. The vessel is torpedoed, and Phillip, temporarily blinded by the blow, drifts in the sea with a black West Indian man named Timothy. While the boy is concerned about his companion, the latter demonstrates a caring attitude from the very beginning.

He gives Phillip advice on how to stay safe in the sea and comforts him when the boy becomes seasick (Taylor 32). However, the boy does not take the new relationship well, and this attitude is partly inspired by the racist discourse he heard from his family (Taylor 36). Water became another reason for conflict, as Timothy insisted on rationing it instead of drinking relentlessly (Taylor 37). He did not want the water to be depleted, as the boy would suffer from thirst afterward, so it was an element of survival education.

As the characters are forced to survive together, their relationship develops, as well. At the same time, the man continued to care for Phillip, even though he did it his way. The boy did not like the multiple tasks he had to do for Timothy, but he soon realized their importance. By the middle point of the novel, Phillip knew “how helpless he was without Timothy” (Taylor 59). The man may have lacked the common literacy of an educated person, but he had other skills, which became much more useful on the island.

Timothy built a hat, made fires to keep them warm, and fetched seafood for the boy to eat (Taylor 67). He refused to abandon his young companion and devoted enough time to teaching him how to survive in an extreme situation. He acted as a true father figure who maintained a fine balance between being harsh and soft. Phillip was provided for, but he had to learn important lessons, too.

By the end of the story, the relationship between Phillip and Timothy became closer, enabled by the former’s gratitude and the latter’s willingness to care for the boy. Phillip gradually becomes more independent and skillful, meaning that Timothy’s teaching was, indeed, fruitful. Simultaneously, the boy learns “of something new Timothy had done” for them to survive (Taylor 103). When a massive hurricane occurs, Timothy dies, as his poor health prevents him from surviving. Phillip felt devastated as he lost more than a new friend: he lost a father figure and became “blind and alone on a forgotten day” (Taylor 112). However, the boy never surrendered, as he felt “the legacy Timothy had left” (Taylor 112). In the end, Timothy’s lessons help Phillip escape the island on a plane and reunite with his family.

However, he never returns to his old worldview and befriends a black West Indian person as his peers now seem too shallow and young. This brief fact mentioned at the end of the novel symbolizes Timothy’s profound influence on Phillip. Timothy left a legacy in the form of an 11-year-old boy who can be proud of surviving on an island and overcoming the deeply racist discourse of his own family. Timothy never aimed to please the boy, on the contrary, he wanted him to learn the harsh lessons of life as it is. This way, he turned an inexperienced child into a mature person, which is something only a true parent figure can do.

Work Cited

Taylor, Theodore. The Cay. Doubleday & Company, 1969.

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IvyPanda. "Timothy as a Father Figure for Phillip Throughout “The Cay”." August 22, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/timothy-as-a-father-figure-for-phillip-throughout-the-cay/.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "Timothy as a Father Figure for Phillip Throughout “The Cay”." August 22, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/timothy-as-a-father-figure-for-phillip-throughout-the-cay/.

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IvyPanda. (2022) 'Timothy as a Father Figure for Phillip Throughout “The Cay”'. 22 August.

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