As the two attempt to survive on a deserted island, Phillip learns lessons in friendship, perseverance, and inner strength. The story’s message of racial equality provides material for meaningful class discussions. Its linear structure and dynamic protagonist also make The Cay a wonderful resource for teaching plot structure and character development.
Student Activities for The Cay
Essential Questions for The Cay
- How can setting affect the plot and characters of a novel?
- How can an external conflict lead to an internal conflict and vice versa?
- What types of experiences and reflections are necessary for a person to change?
- What is the symbolic meaning of Phillip’s blindness?
- In what ways does Phillip grow and change over the course of the novel?
The historical context of The Cay can present difficulties for young readers. It may be helpful to begin the reading unit with background on the geography and history of the novel. Curaçao is an island located off the coast of Venezuela in the southern Caribbean Sea, not far from Aruba. In the 1940s, Curaçao was a territory of the Netherlands, known for its oil refineries. When World War II began in 1939, the oil produced on Curaçao became essential to Allied operations. The U.S. and Britain, in particular, relied on these refineries. To weaken their Allied enemies, therefore, Germany began to target the refineries, torpedoing oil tankers and even attacking the refineries themselves. Curaçao itself was attacked in February of 1942. Although Phillip Enright’s story is fictional, his predicament is based on real historical events.
Learn more about WWII on Curaçao and its neighboring islands.
Check out other lesson plans on history and literature during World War II and Holocaust
- The History of the Holocaust
- Introduction to World War II
- World War II: 1939-1941
- World War II: 1942-1945
- Night by Elie Wiesel
- The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
- Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
- The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal
- "First They Came" by Martin Niemoller
- Lily's Crossing By Patricia Reilly Giff
- White Bird by RJ Palacio
- Once by Morris Gleitzman
- Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
- The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson
- The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
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