The Circle

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The Voice Symbol Analysis

The Voice Symbol Icon

At work, Mae Holland is required to wear a headset, which prompts her to answer survey questions all day long. When she doesn’t answer a question, Mae hears a voice in her headset: it’s her own voice, saying her own name, in order to remind her to continue her task. At first, Mae finds the headset to be uncanny, but she gradually comes to find it soothing. The voice in Mae’s headset symbolizes the way that the Circle, and social networking in general, transforms people into docile, obedient servants.

The Voice Quotes in The Circle

The The Circle quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Voice. 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 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.

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Book Two, part 1 Quotes

"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.

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The Voice Symbol Timeline in The Circle

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Voice appears in The Circle. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book One, part 7
Totalitarianism and Indoctrination Theme Icon
...hundred questions a day. When Mae doesn’t answer a question promptly, she’ll hear her own voice in her headset—which Mae finds very disorienting. (full context)
Social Networking and the Internet Theme Icon
Privacy Theme Icon
...Kalden walking into her office. Just as she’s about to greet him, she hears her voice in her headset, asking her to answer a question. She hesitates, and Kalden walks out... (full context)
Book Two, part 1
Surveillance and Transparency Theme Icon
Privacy Theme Icon
Totalitarianism and Indoctrination Theme Icon
...headset asks her survey questions. When she doesn’t answer them immediately, she hears her own voice, saying her name as a reminder. Mae no longer finds hearing her own voice to... (full context)
Social Networking and the Internet Theme Icon
Surveillance and Transparency Theme Icon
Privacy Theme Icon
Totalitarianism and Indoctrination Theme Icon
...customers, but she continues to feel the tear. When she pauses, she hears her own voice in her headset, prompting her to answer the questions. The voice sounds calming—indeed, “it felt... (full context)