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Disability and the Evasion of Color in Theodore Taylor’s The Cay

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Theodore Taylor’s The Cay received a great deal of criticism upon its publication in 1969 for its racism, yet it has remained in American public school curricula for over fifty years. Defenders of the novel have argued that it advocates for color-blindness, a position that has helped entrench it in schools. Meanwhile, few critics have taken issue with the novel’s depiction of disability. This article brings together those critiques, showing how the novel leans on blindness as a narrative prosthetic to champion color-blindness, a problematic and outdated ideology. Here, color-blindness refers to the claim well-meaning people make when they insist they do not see someone’s skin color because they see the “person underneath.” The novel’s ideology reduces racism to an ocular problem and discourages readers from interrogating racism on a systemic level. This article advocates for The Cay’s censorship or pedagogical usage only in the most critical contexts by examining the ways the novel evades systemic racism, stigmatizes disability by portraying it as a lesson in moral development, and glorifies a white fantasy of racial forgiveness. The continued uncritical, or pseudo-critical investment in The Cay is much more troubling than the novel itself.

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Correspondence to Yvonne Medina.

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Yvonne Medina is a Ph.D. candidate in the English department at the University of Florida where she is writing a dissertation on how disability influences the maturation of child protagonists.

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Medina, Y. Disability and the Evasion of Color in Theodore Taylor’s The Cay. Child Lit Educ 54, 168–183 (2023).

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