The Circle

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Social Networking and the Internet Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Social Networking and the Internet Theme Icon
Surveillance and Transparency Theme Icon
Privacy Theme Icon
Totalitarianism and Indoctrination Theme Icon
Utopianism and Perfection Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Circle, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Social Networking and the Internet Theme Icon

In The Circle, Dave Eggers satirizes the cultures and values that have emerged in the age of the Internet. In particular, he criticizes the culture of social networking, in which the vast majority of personal interactions don’t occur face-to-face, and often occur between people who have never met in person. Written at a time when more and more people communicate predominately through social networking sites, The Circle shows some of the frightening moral and psychological implications of online life.

As Eggers sees it, there are many problems with the shallow and disposable human relationships that are mediated by social networking. Because it’s so easy to accumulate thousands, or even millions, of online friends, social networking encourages people to value their online friendships—taken together—more highly than their older, firmer friendships. Over the course of the novel, we see Mae becoming more loyal to her millions of Internet followers, or “watchers,” than to her longtime close friend Annie Allerton. Even though Mae has never met any of her watchers and she knows almost nothing about them, the aggregate weight of their friendship outweighs her feelings of closeness and intimacy with Annie. As a result, she increasingly neglects Annie and they drift apart.

Moreover, because social networking relationships are shallow, they train human beings to think of all relationships—virtual or face-to-face—in shallow, superficial terms. The Circle exposes the shallowness of interpersonal connection via the romance between Mae and Francis Garaventa. After one date with Francis, Mae senses that she’s halfway in love with him. Over the course of the novel, Mae learns astonishingly little about the man she claims to care for, and the book implies that this is due to the fact that social networking has trained her not to probe too deeply into her relationships.

Finally, social networking trains people to feel an irrational need for constant attention. By providing an endless stream of virtual friends, social networking enables people with Internet access to communicate with someone at literally any time. As a result, Mae and her friends cannot stand even the shortest moments of loneliness; when Mae is alone, for instance, she feels a deep “tear” in her soul, a sign of the feelings of alienation that social networking has created within her.

Some readers have attacked Eggers for being too hysterical in his denunciation of the Internet and social networking, but Eggers isn’t striving for social realism. Rather, his goal is to use satire and hyperbole to draw attention to the serious problems that social networking is creating in modern society.

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Social Networking and the Internet ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Social Networking and the Internet appears in each Book of The Circle. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Social Networking and the Internet Quotes in The Circle

Below you will find the important quotes in The Circle related to the theme of Social Networking and the Internet.
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.

Book One, part 4 Quotes

"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

"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 8 Quotes

"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.

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.

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.