The Circle

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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

Their first month living together Mae had broken her jaw one twilight, after fainting, flu-ridden and underfed, during finals. Annie had told her to stay in bed, but Mae had gone to the 7-Eleven for caffeine and woke up on the sidewalk, under a tree. Annie took her to the hospital, and waited as they wired her jaw, and then stayed with Mae, sleeping next to her, in a wooden chair, all night, and then at home, for days, had fed Mae through a straw. It was a fierce level of commitment and competence that Mae had never seen from someone her age or near her age, and Mae was thereafter loyal in a way she'd never known she could be.

Related Characters: Mae Holland, Annie Allerton
Page Number: 2-3
Explanation and Analysis:

As the novel begins, Mae Holland is about to begin her career at an elite tech company, the Circle. She’s gotten the job thanks to the help of her former roommate and close friend, Annie Allerton. During the period when they were living together in college, Annie proved herself to be a good friend by taking care of Mae after Mae broke her jaw.

The passage establishes the close friendship between Mae and Annie, and—in light of what happens later in the novel—it’s important to notice that this friendship arises out of close, physical, face-to-face contact. The novel implies that the best and most fulfilling friendships are rooted in spending actual time together—not talking over the phone or text messaging. Over the course of the book, Mae begins to gravitate away from “traditional” friendships—i.e., friendships based on face-to-face interaction—and toward virtual friendships, mediated by the Circle’s social networking apps. In the process, Mae becomes lonelier and emotionally needier—no number of virtual “friends” can substitute for the close, intimate friendship that Mae has with Annie.

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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.

Book One, part 2 Quotes

"It's the worst story," Annie said. "His parents were such fuckups. I think there were like four or five kids in the family, and Francis was youngest or second-youngest, and anyway the dad was in jail, and the mom was on drugs, so the kids were sent all over the place. I think one went to his aunt and uncle, and his two sisters were sent to some foster home, and then they were abducted from there. I guess there was some doubt if they were, you know, given or sold to the murderers."
"The what?" Mae had gone limp.
"Oh god, they were raped and kept in closets and their bodies were dropped down some kind of abandoned missile silo. I mean, it was the worst story ever.”

Related Characters: Mae Holland (speaker), Annie Allerton (speaker), Francis Garaventa
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mae asks Annie about a young man she’s met at the Circle, Francis Garaventa. Without hesitation, Annie tells Mae some shocking things about Francis’s early life: his parents didn’t raise him, and his sisters were raped and killed. Annie concludes her story with the unnecessary words, “It was the worst story ever.” Oddly enough, her words seem to minimize the horror of Francis’s early life. (“Worst story ever” sounds like something you’d say to describe a bad day of high school—not an actual tragedy).

The passage is an early sign of the superficiality and insensitivity of the Circle culture. Because the Circle celebrates openness and information transparency, people like Annie often hear genuinely tragic stories from their colleagues. Instead of expressing real sympathy, they offer only the most superficial reactions and then move on with their lives. Since Annie is someone who is capable of great kindness and friendship (shown by her devotion to Mae after Mae broke her jaw), her flippant comment about Francis shows a troubling change in Annie since she has begun working at the Circle.

The passage is also important because, as we’ll see, Francis uses his tragic personal history with child abduction to urge people to support his child tracking program without considering the ethical implications of such surveillance.

Now Bailey cleared the screen again, and stepped toward the audience. "You know what I say, right? In situations like this, I agree with the Hague, with human rights activists the world over. There needs to be accountability. Tyrants can no longer hide. There needs to be, and will be, documentation and accountability, and we need to bear witness. And to this end, I insist that all that happens should be known."

Related Characters: Eamon Bailey (speaker)
Page Number: 67-68
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Eamon Bailey—the charismatic and likeable Wise Man—gives a presentation to a packed theater of Circle employees. Bailey demonstrates a new technology called SeeChange, the purpose of which is to film a location and post the footage online. Bailey argues that SeeChange will revolutionize the world by preventing tyrants from hiding: their atrocities will be broadcast online for the world to see. Bailey’s unspoken assumption is that, once the world sees tyrants’ atrocities, everyone will work together to fight these tyrants.

The problem with Bailey’s philosophy, as we see during the novel, is that people can be very passive. Just because they see evil doesn’t mean they’ll do anything about it. Thus, Bailey’s confidence in the power of information and transparency seems overstated. Furthermore, as we can already tell, there’s an irony in Bailey’s claim that tyrants will be unable to hide from SeeChange cameras: by installing surveillance cameras around the world, the Circle will become a tyrannical corporation. In effect, then, the Circle is shielding itself from accusations of tyranny by using the rhetoric of ending tyranny.

Book One, part 4 Quotes

So what had so mortified her during Gus's presentation? She couldn't put her finger on it. Was it only the surprise of it? Was it the pinpoint accuracy of the algorithms? Maybe. But then again, it wasn't entirely accurate, so was that the problem? Having a matrix of preferences presented as your essence, as the whole you? Maybe that was it. It was some kind of mirror, but it was incomplete, distorted.

Related Characters: Mae Holland, Gus Khazeni
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mae has just sat through an agonizing presentation, in which Francis Garaventa (her sometimes-boyfriend) has demonstrated a dating website called LuvLuv. In front of an auditorium of Mae’s coworkers, Francis explored Mae’s personal interests in order to have an algorithm determine what might be a perfect date for her. Mae is furious, and, as she tries to determine why she’s so upset, she realizes that she doesn’t like the idea of being reduced to a set of data.

The implication of this passage is that there are some human traits that cannot be digitized or quantified. The premise of LuvLuv is that Mae is the composite of her likes and dislikes (as understood by an algorithm), which makes Mae feel objectified. This passage begins to get at what it lost by online life. While computers can try to paint a whole picture of a person, they will always come up short in comparison to the nuanced and dynamic understanding that two people can have of one another. To see a computer attempt to understand her makes Mae feel sad and even slightly dehumanized. While Mae’s complaints seem highly reasonable, the Circle fervently believes that it is possible to capture the essence of a person online, and that there’s nothing humiliating or objectifying about trying to do so.

"It's not that I'm not social. I'm social enough. But the tools you guys create actually manufacture unnaturally extreme social needs. No one needs the level of contact you're purveying. It improves nothing. It's not nourishing. It's like snack food. You know how they engineer this food? They scientifically determine precisely how much salt and fat they need to include to keep you eating. You're not hungry, you don't need the food, it does nothing for you, but you keep eating these empty calories. This is what you're pushing. Same thing. Endless empty calories, but the digital-social equivalent. And you calibrate it so it's equally addictive."

Related Characters: Mercer Madeiros (speaker), Mae Holland
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mae gets into an argument with her old boyfriend, Mercer Madeiros. Mercer is upset with Mae because he notices that she’s becoming shallower and less interesting. As a result of working at the Circle, Mae is spending less time in person with her friends and more time online and on her phone with the people she’s connected to through social networking. Mercer’s criticism of Mae’s behavior is simple: online friends are no substitute for real, actual, person-to-person relationships. Indeed, he argues that online friendships are designed to be unsatisfying and habit-forming.

For the time being, Mercer’s complaints may seem a little hysterical, but by the time the novel is over, we see how prescient his fears are. The comparison of social networking to junk food is particularly apt because social networking comes to seem more like a damaging addiction than a natural part of human relationships. Eating junk food causes health problems, and social networking leads to a decline in Mae’s emotional health (she becomes much more anxious and much less self-reliant) and even a decline in Annie’s physical health, as her anxiety leads her to a breakdown that leaves her in a coma. The notion, too, that the Circle has engineered its social networks in order to deliberately entrap people initially seems hyperbolic and cynical, but, as the dangerous ambition of the Circle becomes clear, Mercer’s warning begins to seem not severe enough. This is one of the few moments in the book in which a character has relative clarity about the dangers of the Circle. Prophetically, though, Mercer’s warning is ignored.

Book One, part 5 Quotes

"'Were you here when that burned?" the man asked, pointing to a large uninhabited island in the middle of the bay. It rose, mute and black, behind them. Mae shook her head.
‘It burned for two days. We had just gotten here' At night, the heat—you could feel it even here. We swam every night in this godforsaken water, just to stay cool. We thought the world was ending."

Related Characters: Mae Holland
Related Symbols: The Elderly Couple
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

In this mysterious passage, Mae kayaks out to sea and encounters an elderly couple sitting in a boat watching the sunset. The couple invites Mae aboard the boat, and she spends a few minutes talking to them.

While Mae’s encounter with the elderly couple has no direct bearing on the plot of the novel, it’s thematically important insofar as it shows how pre-internet generations lived. The elderly couple seems perfectly content to simply talk to one another and look at the sky, even though, by Mae’s Internet-age standards, the couple is slow-paced and a little boring.

One important thing to notice about the passage is the description of the burning island. It’s possible that Eggers intends this image to symbolize the decline of privacy in the age of social networking (burning is a symbol of destruction and an island is a symbol of solitude, so, together, a burning island could represent the end of solitude). Because of social networking and Internet access, it’s almost impossible to ever be truly alone. In a way, the central question of the novel is, does the “burning of the island” represent the end of the world, or the beginning of a utopian age?

"Okay. Can you drink this?" The doctor handed Mae the dense green liquid she'd been preparing. "It's a smoothie."
Mae drank it down. It was viscous and cold.
"Okay, you just ingested the sensor that will connect to your wrist monitor. It was in that glass." The doctor punched Mae's shoulder playfully. "I love doing that."

Related Characters: Dr. Villalobos (speaker), Mae Holland
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

In this disturbing scene, Mae goes to visit the Circle’s resident doctor, Dr. Villalobos. Villalobos gives Mae various medical treatments, as well as a wrist monitor that tracks her heart rate and other vital signs at all times. She also gives Mae a smoothie to drink; after Mae does so, Villalobos explains that Mae has just ingested a tracking device, which Villalobos calls a “sensor” for Mae’s wrist monitor.

Although Villalobos plays off her deception as a joke, it’s a very serious violation of her duties as a doctor. Medical professionals aren’t supposed to lie to their patients—that’s why they take the Hippocratic Oath. It’s ironic that, in the pro-transparency atmosphere of the Circle, Villalobos has to resort to deception in order to violate Mae’s right to privacy and force her to ingest a tracking device. In other words, in order to insure that every part of Mae’s private life is available to the Circle, the doctor has to shroud her own intentions and violate the fundamental oath of her profession. Little by little, it’s becoming clear that the Circle is a police state—however, Villalobos is so charming and playful that Mae doesn’t realize she’s having her rights stolen from her.

Book One, part 6 Quotes

"That's very understandable. To spend time with your parents, believe me, I think that is very, very cool. I just want to emphasize the community aspect of this job. We see this workplace as a community, and every person who works here is part of that community. And to make it all work it requires a certain level of participation. It's like, if we were a kindergarten class, and one girl has a party, and only half the class shows up, how does the birthday girl feel?"

Related Characters: Dan (speaker), Mae Holland
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage comes in the course of a conversation that Mae has with Dan, her supervisor at the Circle. After Dan chastises Mae for spending too little time socializing online and with coworkers, Mae explains that her father has been sick, and Dan is superficially sympathetic. However, it’s clear from his response that he regards spending time with one’s family as being no more intrinsically valuable than spending time with one’s friends or coworkers. For Mae, though, spending time with family is fundamentally different than spending time with friends: she’s close with her family and her father is sick, so it’s something like a sacred duty to go see them. This is, perhaps, the clearest illustration in the book of the disconnect between Mae’s values and the values of her company.

Dan’s analogy about the kindergarten class is revealing for several reasons. First, it’s pretty clear by now that he’s a condescending and belittling person—just the opposite of what Mae took him to be at first. Even more fundamentally, though, it’s interesting that Dan implies that Mae is doing something morally wrong by not participating in work social life—his analogy suggests that Mae is hurting the feelings of her fellow Circle employees. Other Circle employees will make a similar point to Mae, until, overcome by peer pressure, she begins to cave and spend less time with her family and more time participating in the Circle community.

"You're enjoying this?" she asked.

"Mm-hm," he managed.

Mae thrilled at her power over him. Watching Francis, his hands on the bed, his penis straining against his pants, she thought of something she could say. It was corny, and she would never say it if she thought anyone would ever know she'd said it, but it made her smile, and she knew it would send Francis, this shy boy, over the edge.

Related Characters: Mae Holland (speaker), Francis Garaventa
Page Number: 203-204
Explanation and Analysis:

In this darkly comic passage, Mae gently masturbates her sometimes-boyfriend, Francis Garaventa. As she does so, readers get a sense for what Mae finds so attractive about Francis. On the surface, he is a rather nerdy and plain-looking young man, but the passage implies that Mae is attracted to Francis precisely because he’s so weak and immature-looking: he is, as Mae notes here, the archetypal “shy boy.”

Some critics take Francis Garaventa to be Eggers’ caricature of the California tech nerd—Francis is awkward, uncomfortable around women, and very sexually immature. It’s crucial to notice that, at his most attractive to Mae, Francis is totally passive: he’s just sitting back and enjoying Mae’s actions, rather than reciprocating in any way. Thus, even though the passage depicts a sexual encounter between Mae and Francis, it gives a sense of a deep disconnect between them. As the novel suggests, this disconnect is typical of all kinds of relationships—romantic and otherwise—in the era of social networking.

Book One, part 7 Quotes

The extra layer of the CircleSurveys helped distract Mae from thinking about Kalden, who had yet to contact her, and who had not once answered his phone. She'd stopped calling after two days, and had chosen not to mention him at all to Annie or anyone else. Her thoughts about him followed a similar path as they had after their first encounter, at the circus. First, she found his unavailability intriguing, even novel. But after three days, it seemed willful and adolescent. By the fourth day, she was tired of the game. Anyone who disappeared like that was not a serious person. He wasn't serious about her or how she felt.

Related Characters: Mae Holland, Ty Gospodinov / Kalden
Related Symbols: The Voice
Page Number: 235
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Mae begins to exhibit the brainwashing and indoctrination that, by the end of the novel, will turn her into an obedient servant of the Circle. Recognizing that she’s not participating enough in the company’s social scene, Mae’s superiors have given her a special headset; all day long, the headset prompts her with survey questions about her likes, dislikes, etc. Instead of finding this to be intrusive and bizarre, though, Mae thinks it’s a comforting distraction. The Circle’s survey questions (which seem to be designed to help businesses sell products to her and her coworkers) keep her from thinking about Kalden, the mysterious man with whom she’s had passionate sex a few nights ago.

In short, the passage conveys the antagonistic relationship between online socializing and real, person-to-person socializing. During her time at the Circle, Mae spends more and more time interacting with her electronic devices—taking surveys, posting comments, etc.—and less and less time around actual flesh-and-blood human beings. As the passage shows, Mae’s interactions with the Internet and electronic devices brainwash her into slowly forgetting about her personal relationships. Instead of pursuing a relationship that could be interesting and important, Mae prefers to drown herself in shallow technological experiences. Put another way, technology is making Mae more loyal to the Internet, and to the Circle itself, than to any single human being.

She thought of the foxes that might be underneath her, the crabs that might be hiding under the stones on the shore, the people in the cars that might be passing overhead, the men and women in the tugs and tankers, arriving to port or leaving, sighing, everyone having seen everything. She guessed at it all, what might live, moving purposefully or drifting aimlessly, in the deep water around her, but she didn't think too much about any of it. It was enough to be aware of the million permutations possible around her, and take comfort in knowing she would not, and really could not, know much at all.

Related Characters: Mae Holland
Related Symbols: Kayaking
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:

In this dreamy passage, Mae goes out kayaking. The kayaking scenes in the novel are very important, because they convey the ineffable power of solitude and privacy. All alone on the water, Mae is able to forget about her stress and enjoy the beauty of the natural world. She becomes meditative—indeed, in the passage, she reaches an almost Zen conclusion about the world: that there’s only so much she’s capable of knowing. Mae’s conclusion brings her a deep inner peace.

The passage is important, because, for the next 300 pages, the Circle will try to force Mae to un-learn the lesson she learns here. The guiding message of the Circle is that humans must learn everything about the world—indeed, they have a moral imperative to try to do so. Eggers seems to disagree with such a notion: as he sees it, human beings need to accept their own limitations and make peace with the uncertainty of the universe.

Book One, part 8 Quotes

"And I would argue that any place in the world where gays are still persecuted, you could instantly achieve great progress if all the gays and lesbians came out publicly at once. Then whoever is persecuting them, and all those who tacitly support this persecution, would realize that to persecute them would mean persecuting at least 10 percent of the population—including their sons, daughters, neighbors and friends—even their own parents. It would be instantly untenable. But the persecution of gays or any minority group is made uniquely possible through secrecy."

"Okay. I hadn't thought of it that way."

Related Characters: Mae Holland (speaker), Eamon Bailey (speaker)
Page Number: 286
Explanation and Analysis:

In this long scene, Mae has a conversation with Eamon Bailey. During the course of their conversation, Bailey convinces Mae that privacy is a sign of guilt and deception, and, therefore, that people have a moral duty to be open and honest with one another about their own lives. Bailey uses spurious logic to make his point.

Bailey’s arguments are logically confused because they jump from an abstract premise (that, in theory, people could combat homophobia by coming out of the closet together) to the concrete and dangerous conclusion that people have a moral duty to be totally transparent with one another. Coming out of the closet cannot be a duty for any gay person—people have the right to choose if and when they make their sexual orientation public, and to suggest otherwise disrespects the rights of LGBT people to govern their own lives. Besides, the suggestion that, if only homophobes knew who all the gay people in their lives were then they would cease to persecute gay people, is absurd. In general, Bailey’s arguments often fall short because his lofty moral statements have little connection to what happens in reality. Despite this, Bailey’s charisma gives him the ability to use bad logic to place an imperative on individuals to broadcast their personal lives to the public.

"Was the information he presented incorrect? There were factual mistakes?"

"Well, it wasn't that. It was just . . . piecemeal. And maybe that made it seem incorrect. It was taking a few slivers of me and presenting that as the whole me—"
"It seemed incomplete." "Right."
"Mae, I'm very glad you put it that way. As you know, the Circle is itself trying to become complete. We're trying to close the circle at the Circle." He smiled at his own wordplay. "But you know the overall goals of completion, I assume."

Related Characters: Mae Holland (speaker), Eamon Bailey (speaker), Francis Garaventa, Gus Khazeni
Page Number: 289
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Eamon Bailey continues his conversation with Mae Holland; they discuss Mae’s uncomfortable episode with Francis Garaventa, during which Francis volunteered personal information about Mae to an audience of thousands of people. Bailey alludes to the concept of “completion”—a concept that reappears later in the book (where the word is capitalized), and seems to allude to a world in which human beings are perfectly integrated with their virtual reality lives.

There are many subtle things to notice here. First, notice that Mae shouldn't have to say why Francis’s actions made her uncomfortable, and just because Francis doesn’t do Mae any harm doesn't mean he hasn’t violated her right to privacy. Furthermore, notice that Bailey clearly believes that it is possible to represent human beings in their totality online—one day, he implies, websites will be sophisticated enough to give a complete picture of Mae and her friends. However, The Circle often suggests that there are some aspects of the human experience that cannot be quantified, and, therefore, that there are some aspects of the human experience that cannot be displayed online. Freedom, solitude, peace, dignity and strength have no digital counterparts, which indicates that the view of human nature that the Circle espouses is shallow and even dehumanizing. Last, notice Bailey’s pivot from Mae’s legitimate complaints about Francis’ invasive behavior and the Circle’s dehumanizing algorithm to a discussion of the Circle’s overall goals. Instead of addressing and resolving Mae’s problems, Bailey uses the conversation to advance his own agenda.

Somewhere in the stampeding applause, Bailey managed to announce the capper to it all—that Mae, in the interest of sharing all she saw and could offer the world, would be going transparent immediately.

Related Characters: Mae Holland, Eamon Bailey
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of Book One, Mae has finished giving a presentation with Eamon Bailey to a packed theater of Circle employees. At the end of their demonstration, Mae and Eamon have “concluded” that secrets are lies, and that privacy is a form of theft. As the audience cheers, Eamon shouts out that Mae will be volunteering for a program, during which she’ll be required to wear a camera on her body at all times so that anyone in the world will be able to watch her at any time of the day.

One interesting thing about this passage is that it’s not abundantly clear if Eamon is only now informing Mae that she’ll be going transparent, or if the two of them discussed such a possibility beforehand. This ambiguity is surely intentional: Mae slowly loses her free will as she becomes more indoctrinated in Circle propaganda. Thus, it’s eerily appropriate that we not know whether Mae freely chooses to go transparent or whether she’s forced to do so—in a way, both possibilities are correct.

Book Two, part 1 Quotes

Later that day, a headache appeared—caused, she thought, by eating less chocolate than usual. She reached into her bag, where she kept a few

single-serving aspirin packets, but again, on her screen, she saw what everyone was seeing. She saw a hand searching her bag, clawing, and instantly she felt desperate and wretched, like some kind of pill-popping addict.
She did without.

Related Characters: Mae Holland
Page Number: 331
Explanation and Analysis:

In Book Two, Mae has gone transparent, meaning that people from all over the world can watch her at any time of day. Mae relishes the feeling of being watched, because being watched encourages her to be on her best behavior at all times. Instead of eating fattening foods or taking lots of aspirins and other painkillers, Mae makes an effort to be as dignified and presentable as possible. In short, going transparent forces Mae to be “on” at all times.

Strange as it may sound, this passage suggests the distance growing between Mae and her own self. Instead of being herself—following her own instincts, habits, and desires—Mae is forced to reshape her personality in various subtle ways. She’s always trying to conform to the person she knows she’s “supposed” to be. In this sense, the passage is about how transparency deprives Mae of her freedom and individualism. At no time does anyone force Mae to do anything against her will; instead, the experience of being filmed at all times causes Mae to police her own behavior.

"Mae."
She wanted to hear it again, so she said nothing. "Mae."
It was a young woman's voice, a young woman's voice that sounded bright and fierce and capable of anything.
"Mae."
It was a better, more indomitable version of herself. "Mae.”
She felt stronger every time she heard it.

Related Characters: Mae Holland
Related Symbols: The Voice
Page Number: 333
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we see Mae giving in to the ideology of the Circle. In Book One, Mae is given a headset that prompts her with survey questions all day long. When Mae hesitates to answer a question, the headset prompts her with a version of her own voice saying her own name. At first, Mae finds this voice uncanny, but gradually, she gets used to it. In the passage, Mae seems to regard her virtual voice as an improvement on her actual self and a standard for which she should strive.

On a symbolic level, Mae’s virtual voice represents the artificial and superficially perfect presence that she displays to the world after going transparent. Mae wants to “be perfect”—thus, she’s always reshaping her behavior to fit with her idea of what other people want her to do: eat healthily, smile, etc. The fact that Mae can hear her own voice over her headset and, instead of being reminded of who she is and what she wants for herself, have the feeling that she should be doing better shows how ingrained her self-policing has become. Mae is so committed to re-shaping herself in the image of what others expect that even her own voice has become a tool that the Circle can use to manipulate her.

Book Two, part 2 Quotes

Mae caught her breath. She knew this was a demonstration only, but the power felt real. And it felt right. Why wouldn't the wisdom of three hundred million Americans be taken into account when making a decision that affected them all? Mae paused, thinking, weighing the pros and cons. The Circlers in the room seemed to be taking the responsibility as seriously as Mae: How many lives would be saved by killing al-Hamed? It could be thousands, and the world would be rid of an evil man. The risk seemed worth it. She voted yes. The full tally arrived after one minute, eleven seconds: 71 percent of Circlers favored a drone strike.

Related Characters: Mae Holland
Page Number: 407
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Circle demonstrates a new program called Demoxie, which would allow anyone with a Circle account to vote, in real time, on important political decisions of all kinds. In a sample vote, the Circle asks its employees if they should send a drone to kill a dangerous terrorist, considering the strong possibilities of collateral damage.

Even though Mae is confident in Demoxie, it’s painfully obvious that Demoxie is a poorly thought-out program that encourages people to make complex, intricate decisions without giving them enough thought. Here, for example, people choose to end a man’s life and risk other innocent lives after about a minute of “careful” thought. The voters’ behavior in this passage is characteristic of the behavior the Circle tries to promote in general: shallow, narrow-minded, and unethical. Furthermore, the fact that the Circle would ask its users a question about a terrorist drone strike suggests that the Circle is becoming increasingly powerful: it is becoming, in effect, its own government.

Why were they sabotaging everything Mae was working for? But what was she working for, anyway, if 368 Circlers didn't approve of her? Three hundred and sixty-eight people who apparently actively hated her, enough to push a button at her—to send their loathing directly to her, knowing she would know, immediately, their sentiments.

Related Characters: Mae Holland
Page Number: 413
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Circle prompts its users with a “funny question”—is Mae Holland awesome? Mae is initially pleased when she sees that the vast majority of Circle users voted that she is, indeed, awesome. However, she’s deeply troubled when she realizes that 368 people voted that she wasn’t awesome. She becomes deeply anxious because of these 368 people—she can’t stop thinking about them.

The passage is highly satirical, because it shows how emotionally needy social networking can make us. By spending so much time online every day (and because she’s watched by millions of people from around the world), Mae has trained herself to depend upon the validation of other people, the vast majority of whom she’s never met in her life. The result is that even a relatively tiny number of people—368 people out of her many followers—can have a massive influence on her mood. It’s also notable that Mae is far more affected by this than the strain on her real-life relationships: she is no longer close with Annie or her parents, but she never shows nearly as much concern about this growing estrangement as she does about strangers flippantly declaring that they don’t think she is awesome.

"Mae, they just got up and left. They never called 911 or anything. There's no record of it. They never reported it. But the body was found the next day. The guy wasn't even homeless. He was maybe a little mentally disabled but he lived with his parents and worked at a deli, washing dishes. My parents just watched him drown."
Now Annie was choking on her tears.
"Have you told them about this?"
"No. I can't talk to them. They're really disgusting to me right now"

Related Characters: Mae Holland (speaker), Annie Allerton (speaker)
Page Number: 443
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Annie has volunteered as a guinea pig for a new Circle program that tracks its users’ family history, stretching back hundreds of years. To Annie’s horror, however, this reveals some disturbing truths: some of her ancestors were Southern slave owners, and her own parents once witnessed the death of a man and did nothing about it.

The passage is important for a few reasons. First, it shows the way that the Circle uses information and total transparency to drive people away from their families and loved ones. Annie is horrified by the information about her family, but she never asks her parents for their side of the story. Even after the Circle embarrasses her and her family, it doesn’t occur to Annie to be angry with the Circle itself or to distrust its version of events—she’s already too slavishly loyal to her company to question its actions. Furthermore, the passage is an important example of how total transparency isn’t an inherent good. A few pieces of information wreck Annie’s relationship with her parents, possibly forever. Contrary to what Eamon Bailey has always claimed, the information doesn’t enlighten anyone or make anyone’s life better. It just causes problems.

"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.

Mae pictured all this. She pictured the Circle being taken apart, sold off amid scandal, thirteen thousand people out of jobs, the campus overtaken, broken up, turned into a college or mall or something worse. And finally she pictured life on a boat with this man, sailing the world, untethered, but when she tried to, she saw, instead, the couple on the barge she'd met months ago on the bay. Out there, alone, living under a tarp, drinking wine from paper cups, naming seals, reminiscing about island fires.
At that moment, Mae knew what she needed to do.

Related Characters: Mae Holland (speaker), Ty Gospodinov / Kalden (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Elderly Couple
Page Number: 491
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, at the climax of the book, Mae has a decision to make: she can either partner with Ty Gospodinov and speak out against the Circle, denouncing the company for its human rights violations, or she can betray Ty and continue serving the Circle.

The book does not explicitly explain why Mae thinks about the elderly couple from the boat during such a tense moment, but it’s suggested that the elderly couple represents a certain way of life: the private, old-fashioned way of life that Ty is trying to preserve and the Circle is trying to destroy forever. The reader is left to guess whether Mae is thinking about the couple and imagining that she and Ty could have a similarly rewarding life together on a boat, or whether she dreads the notion of turning out like the couple. The fate of the company—and even of the country and world overall—depends on how Mae thinks of the couple. Eggers does leave this as a cliffhanger, but the ending nonetheless seems to be embedded in Eggers’ language in this passage. Mae’s imagining the Circle being dismantled seems far more emotional than her thoughts of the elderly couple. She seems distressed by the idea of the company falling apart, but she describes the couple dispassionately and even with disappointment (which implied in the phrase “but when she tried to, she saw, instead…”). It seems clear that Mae’s emotional investment in her company, produced by sophisticated manipulation and outright brainwashing, will win out.

Book Three Quotes

What was going on in that head of hers? It was exasperating, really, Mae thought, not knowing. It was an affront, a deprivation, to herself and to the world. She would bring this up with Stenton and Bailey, with the Gang of 40, at the earliest opportunity. They needed to talk about Annie, the thoughts she was thinking. Why shouldn't they know them? The world deserved nothing less and would not wait.

Related Characters: Mae Holland, Annie Allerton
Page Number: 497
Explanation and Analysis:

In the brief, final book of The Circle, we learn that Mae has betrayed Ty Gospodinov to the other two Wise Men, who, it’s implied have put Ty under arrest (or, perhaps, murdered him). In the final scene of the novel, Mae, now slavishly loyal to the Circle, looks at Annie laying comatose.

The way Mae treats Annie is indicative of how deeply the Circle has warped her understanding of human relationships. When the novel began, Mae was Annie’s close, loving friend—now, Mae doesn’t seem to think of Annie as a particularly important person at all. Indeed, the predominant emotion in this passage isn’t affection or concern, but annoyance. Mae feels a boundless desire to know everything about the world, even what other people are thinking and dreaming about. She decides that she’ll propose a project to read thoughts at her next Circle meeting.

Thus, the novel ends on a terrifying note: if Mae succeeds in her project to decode thoughts, then human beings will have lost their final form of privacy, their own minds. In general, the novel’s ending shows how the Circle has turned Mae from a sensible, compassionate young woman into a cold, unfeeling pawn. Here, more than ever, it’s clear that the Circle is no utopia: it’s a totalitarian regime.

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