The Circle

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The Circle Book One, part 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the evening, Mae meets up with Annie at the Circle’s solstice party. They load their plates with delicious food, sit in the stone amphitheater on the Circle campus, and watch the other employees dancing and playing games.
The Circle hosts constant parties and get-togethers, during which the employees are encouraged to meet one another. These parties build a strong sense of community and group solidarity.
Themes
Totalitarianism and Indoctrination Theme Icon
As Mae socializes with her new coworkers, she hears a male voice saying, “Look at this one. She looks so peaceful.” Mae can’t find the person who says this. As she wanders off to find some more wine, a man wearing a t-shirt and a vest tells her that he’s hidden some wine in a nearby pool. Mae follows the man, who introduces himself as Francis Garaventa. She notices that he has an older man’s eyes, but young, soft skin. Francis gives Mae some wine and tells her about himself: he’s been working as developer for the company for two years. He compliments Mae’s voice, saying, “So far, it’s the best thing about you.” Mae finds this comment odd. She tells him, “You’re strange,” and he replies, “I don’t have parents. Does that buy me some forgiveness?”
Francis is one of the novel’s key characters, and Mae’s initial impression of him is that he seems both mature and immature: simultaneously old and young. Some critics have argued that Francis is the embodiment of the Silicon Valley ethos—in other words, he’s the kind of person tech companies attract. Francis is clearly a smart, savvy Circle employee, but he’s also awkward, and he seems to be uncomfortable around the opposite sex. He strains to say the right things to Mae, but he often comes up short.
Themes
Social Networking and the Internet Theme Icon
Annie sees Mae and Francis talking and she comes to greet them. Francis seems oddly intimidated by Annie, and he walks away to give Annie and Mae some time alone. Annie teases Mae about flirting with Francis, and Mae insists that she wasn’t. Mae goes home via the Circle shuttle. Back in her apartment, she thinks about how sad and ordinary her home is, and how lucky she is to be working at the Circle.
In the evening, after Mae says goodbye to Francis and Annie, she’s left with the sense that the Circle is just better than the outside world—it’s so happy, exciting, and innovative that it makes the rest of California seem uninteresting by comparison.
Themes
Totalitarianism and Indoctrination Theme Icon
Utopianism and Perfection Theme Icon
The next day, Mae arrives at work early and Renata shows Mae to her real office. She’s taken to a beautifully carved wooden desk, from which she’ll be conducting business. Mae notices that her desk is “divided” from the other desks with transparent glass dividers. That morning, Mae speaks with Rob, a payroll employee, and Tasha, a notary. She also meets with Jon, another payroll employee, who makes a copy of her birth certificate. Finally, Mae meets an employee named Brandon, who gives her a new tablet and phone, the electronic devices she’ll be using from now on. Brandon asks to see Mae’s old laptop and phone, and he quickly transfers the data from both devices to her new machines. Brandon asks Mae if she wants him to throw away her laptop now that she has no further need for it. Mae replies, “Maybe tomorrow. I want to say goodbye.”
On Mae’s second day of work, she begins to get down to brass tacks, getting set up at her desk, figuring out payment information, etc. Notice that Mae’s desk, while very pretty, is still, at the end of the day, a desk—a subtle metaphor for the fact that the Circle, beneath all the utopian rhetoric, is just a greedy company. Also, the fact that the dividers around Mae’s desk are transparent reflects the Circle’s total commitment to information transparency. For the time being, Mae isn’t asked to surrender any particularly personal information—a birth certificate is normal information for employers. Furthermore, there’s no indication that Jon, Brandon, or Tasha will share Mae’s personal information with other people. Everything seems confidential, at least for the time being. Brandon gives Mae beautiful communication devices, and he seems eager to throw out everything tied to Mae’s old way of life. This, once again, emphasizes the company’s commitment to innovation.
Themes
Privacy Theme Icon
Totalitarianism and Indoctrination Theme Icon
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Annie greets Mae, and Mae is so overwhelmed with gratitude that she embraces Annie and whispers, “Thank you.” Annie introduces Mae to her team leader, a handsome, peaceful-looking man named Dan, and then Annie departs. Dan earnestly explains to Mae that, as an employee of the Circle, she’ll be honoring the company’s principles, the most important of which is its commitment to community. Mae is overjoyed to be working with a boss who is sincere and principled. Dan seems to be exactly the opposite of her previous boss.
Clearly, Mae is impressed with the Circle so far. She is proud to be working for such a prestigious company, and she must be grateful to have a lucrative job that’ll help her pay off her expensive student loans. While a company showing its commitment to community seems healthy to a certain degree, it’s odd that Mae’s team leader emphasizes community above all else. This suggests that community will be a primary focus of Mae’s work.
Themes
Social Networking and the Internet Theme Icon
Utopianism and Perfection Theme Icon
Dan shows Mae to her desk and introduces her to her trainer, Jared. Jared explains that Mae will be in charge of customer satisfaction for smaller advertisers. She’ll respond when customers ask questions, and, in return, the customers will give her a rating from 1 to 100. If Mae’s ratings dip below 95, Jared cautions, she might need to meet with him to go over best practices. Jared runs through some practice questions with Mae, and then he gives her an actual live user question to answer. Mae answers the question, and she receives a rating of 99. Jared encourages Mae to follow up about her rating and ask why the user didn't give her a 100. Mae does so, and the user changes the rating to a 100.
First, notice that Jared doesn’t really tell Mae anything about how advertising fits in with the company overall—apparently, Mae’s job is to answer customer questions, and not to think too much about the company as a whole. Second, notice that Mae’s work is mostly meaningless: she’s supposed to solicit ratings from her customers, but, if they don’t give her a high enough rating, she’s supposed to nudge them to give her one. The Circle seems overly concerned with improving ratings that are already high—it’s not clear why a 99 is much better than a 95 (or what these numbers mean to different customers).
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Utopianism and Perfection Theme Icon
Jared leaves Mae with some user questions. Mae spends the rest of the morning answer questions and following up with anyone who didn’t give her a 100. After a few hours, her aggregate rating is 98. Jared checks up on Mae’s work frequently, and compliments her for her success. As Mae works, she sees on her tablet that Annie has sent a company-wide message that Mae is “kicking ass” on her first day.
Mae may be “kicking ass,” but neither she nor the readers have much of a sense of what role she plays in the company as a whole, or why differences of a single point matter (i.e., why it’s important to bump up a 99 to a 100). Once again, the passage calls into question what, exactly, qualifies Mae (or anyone else) to work at the Circle.
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Utopianism and Perfection Theme Icon
By the end of her first week, Mae has memorized boilerplate responses to give to customers. She already feels comfortable with Customer Experience, and she is accumulating customer contacts around the world. Customers are always very polite in their questions: one legacy of TruYou is that Internet users aren’t anonymous, and therefore they can’t be rude without other people finding out about it. Her aggregate rating is a 97, and everyone seems pleased with her work.
Mae’s job is fun and easy—perhaps too easy. She learns everything she has to know about Customer Experience within a few days, and she gets a very high aggregate rating (although why a 97 is better than a 95 in any non-trivial sense remains a mystery). Notice that the Circle likes to rank its employees in very precise (but still somewhat confusing) ways.
Themes
Surveillance and Transparency Theme Icon
Utopianism and Perfection Theme Icon
On Friday, Mae gets lunch with Annie, and Annie praises Mae for her excellent work. Annie notes that when she worked in Customer Experience, she didn’t even crack a 95 in her first week. Annie introduces Mae to two coworkers, Sabine and Josef. Josef asks Mae about her Customer Experience work, and mentions that he—and many others at the Circle—started there. Sabine says that she’s a biochemist for the Circle, but when Mae asks her what she’s working on, Sabine insists that she’s unable to talk about it. Josef works in the Education Access department, and he says that he’s friends with Francis Garaventa—Francis had told him that he met someone “very nice” named Mae. Josef and Annie explain to Mae that Francis is working on a program designed to prevent all baby abductions. Francis’s parents were “fuckups,” Annie says, and several of his siblings were abducted from a foster home and murdered. “It was the worst story ever,” she adds.
In this strange passage, Mae gets to know Sabine and Josef, who tell her a little more about the Circle and about Francis. Sabine’s secret biochemistry work suggests that the Circle’s goals for the future extend far beyond the Internet. Notice, also, that Francis has told his friends about Mae already. Strangely, the fact that Annie characterizes Francis’s family tragedy as the “worst story ever” minimizes the tragedy (you’d be more likely to use such a phrase to talk about a bad day at school than to discuss anything that’s actually tragic). Annie’s brisk, superficial manner, we’ll quickly see, is characteristic of the Circle in general.
Themes
Social Networking and the Internet Theme Icon
Surveillance and Transparency Theme Icon
After lunch, Annie, Mae, and the other Circle employees congregate in the Great Hall, which is a cavernous space modeled off of an Italian church. Inside, a middle-aged man wearing a sweater and jeans walks onto the stage and introduces himself as Eamon Bailey. People shout out, “We love you, Bailey!” and Bailey replies, “I love you as the grass loves the dew.” Mae is transfixed by Bailey’s casual eloquence. Bailey proceeds to talk, as he does every Friday, about some of the projects that he’s been working on. He shows the employees a clear live video of Stinson Beach that’s coming from a thumb-size camera. Affordably priced live streaming, he argues, will allow people around the world to get in touch with other people and places.
In this symbolically loaded passage, we’re introduced to Eamon Bailey, the charismatic Wise Man who celebrates transparency. The fact that Bailey is speaking in a church-like space is no coincidence: he’s proselytizing on behalf of the “religion” of social networking (and, as we’ll learn, he’s very religious). Mae finds Bailey to be highly eloquent and charismatic, but on paper his words seem clichéd and unremarkable. (The passage pays homage to Steve Jobs’s legendary Apple presentations, during which he, too, wore casual-seeming jeans and addressed a rapturous crowd.)
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Surveillance and Transparency Theme Icon
Privacy Theme Icon
Bailey goes on to talk about the human rights implications of live streaming. Protesters around the world will be able to capture human rights violations and murders and send the footage around the world. Anyone who commits a crime will be caught in the act. As a result, Bailey insists, crimes, human rights violations, and even everyday acts of unkindness will recede from society. Bailey shouts, “Tyrants can no longer hide,” and the audience applauds.
At this point in the novel, the idea that the Circle should use its technology to monitor people might seem reasonable, especially because Bailey says that the Circle will use its cameras to protect human rights. However, it’s important to note Bailey’s claims that tyrants will no longer be able to hide: later, we will learn that the Circle is concealing its own tyranny through its rhetoric of protecting human rights.
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Utopianism and Perfection Theme Icon
Bailey finishes his speech by talking about his mother. He explains that he’d wanted to install a camera system in his mother’s house so that he could check in on her. After his mother refused to allow cameras in her home, Bailey snuck into her home—the audience laughs at this information—and installed a few Circle cameras himself. Now, Bailey can check up on his mother at any time. Mae whispers to Annie, “This is incredible.” Bailey concludes, “All that happens will be known.”
For the time being, Bailey evades accusations of unethical behavior—he actually gets a big laugh when he claims that he snuck into his mother’s home. Nobody in the audience seems to understand how invasive, unethical, and downright creepy Bailey’s ideas are: Mae, Annie, and their peers are seduced by his utopian vision.
Themes
Surveillance and Transparency Theme Icon
Privacy Theme Icon
Utopianism and Perfection Theme Icon