The Circle

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Tom Stenton is one of the Three Wise Men who run the Circle. Of the three, he’s the most stereotypically corporate—aggressive, dangerously charismatic, and ethically lax. Throughout the novel, Stenton seems to play a minor role in the company, at least from the perspective of Mae Holland and her fellow Circle employees. Only toward the end of the book does it become clear that Stenton is the most powerful of the Wise Men, and the one whose vision of ruthless, totalitarian control will prove most influential. As Eggers implies, Stenton is a “shark”: he devours everything in his presence and always gets his way.

Tom Stenton Quotes in The Circle

The The Circle quotes below are all either spoken by Tom Stenton or refer to Tom Stenton. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Social Networking and the Internet Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of The Circle published in 2014.
Book One, part 1 Quotes

The more she looked at it, the stranger it became. The artist had arranged it such that each of the Wise Men had placed a hand on another's shoulder. It made no sense and defied the way arms could bend or stretch.

Related Characters: Mae Holland, Ty Gospodinov / Kalden, Tom Stenton, Eamon Bailey
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

On her first day at the Circle, Mae Holland encounters a mysterious painting that depicts the three “Wise Men” who run the company together. While it may seem odd for three people to run the same company (wouldn’t one of them rise above the other two?), Mae believes that the three Wise Men balance one another out: one of the Wise Men is aggressive and materialistic, one is shy, and the third is charismatic and generous. As Mae approaches the painting, however, she notices that it’s not a very realistic depiction of how three human beings would actually stand together. The painting tries to give the sense that each man has a hand on another’s shoulder—a sign of equality and respect—but the logistics of this are possible only in a fictionalized depiction. The equality and cooperation that the hands on the shoulders represent, in other words, are possible in art, but not in life.

The painting functions as a symbol for the naiveté of Mae’s view of the Wise Men. She and most of the other Circle employees believe that three powerful people can get along and run a company as equals, but, in reality, only one—the aggressive, dangerous Tom Stenton—will rise above the other two and seize power.

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Book Two, part 2 Quotes

"Let's cut the video feed," Stenton said to Mae, "in the interest of allowing her some dignity."

Related Characters: Tom Stenton (speaker), Mae Holland
Page Number: 456
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mae is making a presentation to an audience of Circle employees and she demonstrates a new program designed to track down anyone on the planet. For her first example, Mae chooses to track down a woman who is a convicted murder and who has escaped from prison. Mae succeeds in mobilizing a huge, angry mob of Circle users to chase after the woman, and the mob corners the woman in front of a wall and calls the police. Interestingly, and crucially, Tom Stenton—the “Wise Man” who’s secretly guiding Mae’s presentation—tells Mae to cut away from the woman after she’s arrested.

It’s worth thinking about why Stenton gives such an order. Stenton seems not to want to show any of the potentially negative consequences of his programs. He doesn’t want people to develop sympathy for this woman as she goes through the prison system, or—in the event that the police have arrested the wrong woman—become skeptical of the Circle’s tracking program. So even though Stenton claims that he’s cutting the video feed for the sake of the woman’s “dignity,” he’s clearly being disingenuous. For one, the company’s commitment to complete transparency, were it consistently applied, should categorically reject the notion that it would be necessary to cut the feed for any reason. More important, Stenton has already deprived this woman of whatever dignity she has left—in all likelihood, he’s cutting the video feed to preserve the illusion that the Circle is a just, ethical, and “fun” company.

Book Two, part 3 Quotes

He couldn't get enough of the shark, its anxious circling.

"Until next time," Stenton said finally. He nodded to Mae, and then to her watchers, who were now one hundred million, many of them terrified, many more in awe and wanting more of the same.

Related Characters: Tom Stenton (speaker), Mae Holland
Related Symbols: The Octopus, The Seahorse, The Shark
Page Number: 482
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Eggers offers a complex metaphor for the Circle itself. Stenton places an octopus and a seahorse—both of which he’s captured during his exploration of the Marianas Trench—in a tank with a shark. Although some, such as Bailey, believe that the three animals will be able to get along just fine, it quickly becomes clear that they won’t: the shark devours the octopus, the seahorse, and everything else alive in the tank.

The shark tank is a metaphor for the Circle itself: Stenton is the shark, Bailey is the octopus, and Gospodinov is the seahorse. In theory, it seems that Gospodinov and Bailey could balance out Stenton’s boundless greed—but in fact, Gospodinov and Bailey, too, will be “devoured” sooner or later. Stenton seems eerily calm as the shark devours the other animals—it’s as if he’s using the footage of the shark tank, which is being broadcast around the world, to send the message that he, like the shark, is a dangerous creature and he’s not to be trifled with. Stenton has been a minor character in the novel thus far, but now that the Circle is about to become a global monopoly, it’s implied that Stenton is going to seize power and turn the Circle into a totalitarian dictatorship.

Notice, also, that some of the people who are watching the shark tank from around the world seem to enjoy the savage spectacle: disturbingly, this could symbolize their desire for a deadly, powerful, and charismatic dictator to tell them what to do.

"But there are a thousand protections to prevent all of this. It's just not possible. I mean, governments will make sure—"
"Governments who are transparent? Legislators who owe their reputations to the Circle? Who could be ruined the moment they speak out? What do you think happened to Williamson? Remember her? She threatens the Circle monopoly and, surprise, the feds find incriminating stuff on her computer. You think that's a coincidence? That's about the hundredth person Stenton's done that to. Mae, once the Circle's complete, that's it. And you helped complete it. This democracy thing, or Demoxie, whatever it is, good god. Under the guise of having every voice heard, you create mob rule, a filterless society where secrets are crimes."

Related Characters: Mae Holland (speaker), Ty Gospodinov / Kalden (speaker), Tom Stenton, Eamon Bailey
Page Number: 488
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mae has learned the truth about Ty Gospodinov: the person she’s known as “Kalden” is Ty. Ty was one of the original founders of the Circle, but now he has become disillusioned with the concept of information transparency. He believes that the Circle is going to become so powerful that it will rule the world and become a totalitarian dictatorship. Now, Ty is trying to convince Mae to use her global influence to speak out against the Circle and prevent it from seizing power.

When Mae hears Ty name all the potential dangers of the Circle, she’s highly skeptical. She’s so accustomed to thinking of the Circle as a benevolent and even utopian organization that she can’t process the notion that the company is tyrannical. It’s striking that she can think of no better counterargument to Ty’s claims than the idea that the government will be able to keep the Circle from enacting an unethical agenda—it has been clear for a long time that the Circle treats politicians like pawns. Evidently, Mae has spent very little time thinking about the ethics or actions of the Circle. She’s become so swept up in its lofty goals of transparency that she hasn’t stopped to ask herself if transparency is a good idea.

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Tom Stenton Character Timeline in The Circle

The timeline below shows where the character Tom Stenton appears in The Circle. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book One, part 1
Utopianism and Perfection Theme Icon
Standing next to Ty in the portrait is Tom Stenton, the Circle’s CEO. Stenton seems to be in the “mold of the eighties Wall Street... (full context)
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...cerebral palsy, and his enthusiastic relationship with the company’s young employees. Somehow, Ty, Bailey, and Stenton balance each other out and keep the company successful. As Mae looks at the painting... (full context)
Book One, part 6
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On Friday, Annie and Mae are sitting in the Great Hall, where Tom Stenton is about to give a talk. Mae has told Annie about the video Francis took,... (full context)
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Stenton emerges on the stage and begins his lecture. He talks about the importance of transparency... (full context)
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...talking to Kalden, two of her coworkers greet her by name and tell her about Stenton’s plan to dive to the bottom of the Marianas Trench. (full context)
Book Two, part 1
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At Book Two opens, Stenton has returned from his expedition to the Marianas Trench, and he brought with him a... (full context)
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...a “wraparound service” when the government could do so? The Gang of 40 snickers; condescendingly, Stenton explains that the Circle is in a much better position to build a good, user-friendly... (full context)
Book Two, part 2
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...to the Circle in the hopes that the Circle will buy them out. Bailey and Stenton attend the meeting in person, while Ty appears via video feed. Mae remembers what Kalden... (full context)
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...“stop and search” procedures. The presenter suggests using Francis’s child tracking program to identify suspects. Stenton approves of the idea, saying, “It’s the community’s right to know who’s committed crimes.” The... (full context)
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...an unorthodox or violent way. While demonstrating the program, the presenter plays a loud alarm. Stenton is furious that the presenter would play the alarm, to the degree that he nearly... (full context)
Surveillance and Transparency Theme Icon
Totalitarianism and Indoctrination Theme Icon
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...Mae explains that she’s introducing a new program called SoulSearch; in her ear, she hears Stenton’s voice, directing her on what to say next. It is unjust, Mae explains, for criminals... (full context)
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...by at least twelve Circle users. One of the Circle users yells, “Lynch her!” but Stenton whispers to Mae, “She must be kept safe.” Mae tells her watchers to call the... (full context)
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The audience shouts, “Another!” This time, Stenton suggests that Mae try a regular civilian. Mae posts a photograph of Mercer, and hundreds... (full context)
Book Two, part 3
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...that she and her watchers “could use some distraction.” They walk to the aquarium, where Stenton has combined all the animals he took from the Marianas trench into one tank (he’s... (full context)
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Stenton greets Mae and says, “I don’t think you’ve met Ty yet, have you, Mae?” Mae... (full context)
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...Wise Men assembled together, Mae’s watchers grow to 51 million. Following script, Mae explains that Stenton has assembled three majestic animals together in the aquarium: a shark, an octopus, and a... (full context)
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The shark swims toward the octopus and tears it apart. Bailey whimpers in sadness, but Stenton looks at the shark with “a mixture of fascination and pride.” Next, the shark eats... (full context)
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...and he replies, “The fucking shark that eats the world.” He says that Bailey and Stenton know he goes by another name, and adds, “I’m not technically allowed to leave campus.... (full context)
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...life will be “perfect” when the Circle is closed and “every soul is connected.” But Stenton has no such illusions—his only goal is to monetize the Circle and use it for... (full context)
Book Three
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...she promised to read the letter, and then immediately went to talk to Bailey and Stenton. Afterwards, Ty was allowed to stay on campus in an “advisory role, with a secluded... (full context)