Theodore Taylor’s novel, The Cay, is a great one for working on the concept of theme. You can talk about themes in a variety of categories – man against nature – with the storm, man against society – with the war, man against technology – with the ship and the torpedoes, and man against self – with Phillip’s initial prejudice.
Here are some theme questions that might be useful when discussing or having students write about this novel.
1. What are some themes addressed in The Cay?
2. What did Phillip learn from his time on the island?
3. What do you think is the main theme in The Cay? Why did you choose this as the main theme?
4. How does the sinking of the Hato illustrate the theme of man against technology?
5. How did World War II technology affect the outcome of The Cay?
6. How does the storm on the cay illustrate the theme of man against nature?
7. How did Phillip survive on the island? What events that happened earlier in the story contributed to his survival during the storm and after Timothy died?
8. How does the story’s World War II setting illustrate the theme of man against society?
9. How did World War II affect Phillip and his family?
10. How does Phillip’s initial prejudice against Timothy illustrate the theme of man against self?
11. How did Phillip overcome the racial prejudice he had grown up with?
12. How did Phillips’ blindness make survival more difficult?
13. How did Phillip’s blindness allow him to learn things that he might not have learned if he could see?
14. How did Phillip overcome the obstacles caused by his blindness?
15. What did Phillip come to appreciate about Timothy?
16. How did Phillip’s time on the island help him to quickly become more mature?
If you are reading The Cay in class, here is a free resource that you might be able to use, a characterization timeline which asks students to chart the changes that Phillip undergoes throughout the course of the novel.
And here are some more resources for The Cay.
Linked with these websites, where you will find lots more good ideas!