The plot of the children's book "The Cay" is that of two people marooned on a deserted island. One, a blind 11-year-old, and the other, an uneducated West Indies native, must learn to survive on the island. Initially, personality conflicts place a strain on their relationship. After Timothy, the West Indies native, dies during a storm, Phillip, the boy, must bury the man's body. Shortly thereafter, he is rescued.
During the beginning of World War II, Phillip, an American boy, is taken to Curacao by his father, who is there on government business. At his mother's behest, the family decides to return to America. Enroute, a German submarine destroys their ship. While floating among the wreckage of the ship, Phillip is blinded when a piece of wood hits him on the head.
Drifting at sea, Phillip meets Timothy. They drift at sea until the are able to find land. On the island, they build a small hut and collect rain water in order to survive. In their early days together, significant racial tension and classist undertones affect their relationship. Phillip discovers that Timothy can't read and even pressures Timothy to do unpleasant tasks. The situation reaches a breaking point, and Timothy slaps Phillip. Shortly after, by focusing on similarities, rather than their differences, Phillip starts to treat Timothy as an equal.
Eventually, the bond between them deepens. Towards the end of the novel, a storm approaches the cay where they are living. Phillip survives the storm because Timothy lashes the two of them to a tree to keep from being overwhelmed by the wind and rain. Shortly after the storm, Timothy dies. Phillip buries his friend and attempts to navigate the island blind and alone. Eventually, he is spotted by a passing plane and is rescued.