Mae wakes up on Saturday and spends the day with her father. On Sunday, she wakes up to find him sitting on the couch watching sports. As he sits on the couch, he calls for Mae to get her mother. Mae smells something bad and realizes that he’s soiled himself. Mae’s mother tells her she should probably head back since her father won’t want her to see him like this. Mae says that she can stay and help, but Mae’s mother insists that she give her father some privacy.
This passage is a powerful example of why people deserve the right to privacy. Mae wants to spend as much time with her father as possible, and she can’t quite understand why he might want some time alone (rather than humiliating himself in front of his own daughter). All people should have privacy when they want it—they shouldn’t have to beg for it.
Furious with her mother, Mae drives out to her favorite kayaking spot and finds that Marion’s son, Walt, is running the kayaking station that afternoon. He asks Mae to come back by 5:22 so that he can pick up his daughter. Walt explains that he’s just digitized the kayaking system, but then he sees that his Wi-Fi isn’t working well. Mae asks Walt if she can check in after kayaking, and then she takes her kayak out on the water.
The fact that the kayaking system is now digitized is a subtle sign of how the Circle is destroying the right to privacy. Kayaking was a sanctuary for Mae, but now the Circle’s technology is encroaching on that sanctuary. It’s also significant that the digitized system relies on Wi-Fi: the business was more reliable before it upgraded its technology, it seems.
Mae kayaks out to a distant fishing boat, where she finds an elderly couple sitting down to have a cocktail. A woman invites Mae to join them for a drink, but Mae can see that her husband is a little uncomfortable with bringing Mae aboard. Nevertheless, she climbs onto the boat and accepts a glass of wine. The woman says, “I think she’s a nice girl,” and guesses that Mae is about eleven years old. The woman’s husband points out a large uninhabited island in the distance and tells Mae that it burned not too long ago.
In this surreal scene, Mae encounters an elderly couple who are never named. The couple represents the old, pre-Internet way of life. The couple isn’t glamorous or creepily upbeat like the Circle’s employees, but they exemplify a stoic confidence and compassion that, as we’ll see, the Circle is on the verge of annihilating. The image of an island burning is, itself, a fascinating symbol: perhaps it gestures towards the way that modern technology has ruined individuality and privacy.
Suddenly, Mae realizes that she needs to return her kayak in eight minutes. She says her goodbyes to the elderly couple and paddles back to Walt. During her trip back, she realizes that she’s been blissfully free of thoughts of her parents, Mercer, or work.
Solitude is important for Mae because it represents an escape from the stresses of her life. However, the Circle is on the verge of ending that solitude for good.
On Monday, Mae comes into work and realizes that she’s missed several Circle parties and mixers over the weekend. Dan brings her into his office and asks her to help him train the new recruits in the afternoon. Around eleven, Jared brings in a group of new recruits. Quickly, he tells them that today will be a very busy first day, so lunch will be cut short, and Mae will be helping them with their workload. Mae proceeds to field the new recruits’ questions for the rest of the morning, and the office gets an aggregate rating of 93. Afterwards, Dan tells Mae that she’ll need to visit the Circle clinic soon, and that next week he’ll “hook her up” with a new aspect of the Customer Experience job.
Even though Mae has only been working at the company for two weeks, she’s already being treated like an old pro. It’s perplexing that Mae could master her job after only two weeks—surely a company as prestigious and sought-after as the Circle would demand that its employees be savvy, intelligent people who can handle difficult assignments. Instead, Mae’s assignments seem remarkably easy and straightforward—even on a bad day the office nets a 93 out of 100.
In the later afternoon, Mae leaves her desk, per Dan’s request, and goes to the Circle clinic. There, a strikingly beautiful woman, who introduces herself as Dr. Villalobos, informs Mae that the Circle values healthy bodies and minds. As such, Circle employees are asked to check in with the clinic every two weeks. Dr. Villalobos adds that the Circle has access to Mae’s complete medical records, and she offers to take care of Mae’s knee, which Mae opted not to have ACL surgery on years before because her insurance didn’t cover it. Villalobos offers Mae a wrist monitor, which measures her heart rate, and a green smoothie. After Mae drinks the smoothie, Villalobos laughs playfully and informs her that she’s just swallowed the sensor that will connect to her wrist monitor. Mae nods and says that her wrist monitor is “pretty.”
Dr. Villalobos is a rather sinister character. She violates her Hippocratic oath within a few minutes of meeting Mae by conning her into ingesting a tracking device that Mae has every right to turn down. Notice that Dr. Villalobos laughs off the ethical implications of her action, much as Eamon Bailey did while introducing SeeChange. Mae seems unperturbed by the ethics of Dr. Villalobos’s behavior—she’s so dazzled by the beauty of her wrist monitor that she doesn’t realize it might as well be a handcuff.
Dr. Villalobos asks Mae a series of medical questions. When she asks if Mae’s parents’ health is good, Mae, in spite of herself, begins to cry. She tells Dr. Villalobos about her father’s MS and his recent accident. Villalobos nods and suggests that Mae add her parents to her insurance plan. That evening, Mae asks Annie about adding her parents to her insurance plan, explaining that her father’s current health insurance isn’t covering his MS. Annie is surprised that Mae didn’t tell her sooner, and she assures Mae that the Circle will be able to take care of her parents. Then she tells Mae that she needs to run to a meeting, “dealing with some juicy Russian tax stuff.” She adds that she’ll be working very late, probably all night.
In this disturbing section, Mae prepares to add her parents to her health insurance plan. While such an action will provide Mae’s father with the healthcare he needs, it will also give the Circle a lot of leverage over Mae, allowing them to pressure her into doing their bidding. Also, notice that Annie has to deal with “juicy Russian tax stuff,” which suggests that the Circle’s reach is becoming truly global.
As Mae is standing alone in Annie’s office, Annie calls her and explains that she’s “twisted a few arms” and arranged for both of Mae’s parents to get Circle health insurance. Mae is stunned—it has been about four minutes since Annie left the room. Mae calls her parents and tearfully tells them the good news.
As with so much at the Circle, putting Mae’s parents on Mae’s healthcare plan is a little too easy. Considering what we know already about the Circle’s unethical practices, we might wonder what the Circle will do with Mae’s parents—perhaps monitor them in the way it monitors its employees.
Later in the evening, Mae checks her tablet for a list of potential activities: she could go to lectures, poetry slams, cooking classes, and more. She decides to go to a circus performance, where she sees Alistair. Alistair makes eye contact with her, and immediately sends out an invite for an event for all “Portugal enthusiasts”— Mae immediately responds that she’ll attend. One of the circus performers rushes toward Mae, his arms full of swords. Mae is intimidated—she’s sure that the performer is really going to hit her with his swords. Someone pulls Mae to her knees to protect her from the swordsman—Mae looks up and realizes that it’s Kalden. He asks if she’s okay, and then walks her away from the circus.
Mae responds to Alistair’s invite, symbolizing the fact that she’s becoming more and more deeply ingrained in her Circle community. The swordsman’s performance could symbolize the escalating sense of danger in the novel—although Mae doesn’t realize it yet, she is at the mercy of a tyrannical company.
Mae walks with Kalden and abruptly tells him, “You don’t remember my name.” Kalden admits he doesn’t. He gets her name, and then proceeds to ask her questions about her coworkers. Mae asks him, “What do you do here, anyway?” but he doesn’t answer. Kalden walks by a lemon tree and offers her one. Then he shakes the lemon tree so that many lemons fall down—one of them hits Mae in the head. Kalden says, “You always hurt the ones you love … That’s what my parents said. And they loved me very much.”
Kalden continues to play an unclear role in the plot of the book—it’s not clear what he does for the Circle, if anything, and he doesn’t seem to have any relationship to the other characters. (The fact that Kalden offers Mae sour lemons might symbolize the fact that he’s the only person at the Circle who doesn’t offer Mae a rosy, naïve view of the world.) Kalden’s remark about his parents “loving him a lot” is a strange non sequitur, since it implies that Kalden’s parents hurt him; even later in the book, it’s not entirely clear what he’s talking about (Eggers never gives us information about Kalden’s literal parents). One possible interpretation of the passage, in light of what we later find out about Kalden, is that Kalden’s “parents” are his older partners and mentors, Eamon Bailey and Tom Stenton, who at first collaborate with him, but slowly begin to suppress his ideas. Another possible interpretation is that Kalden’s remarks are meant to emphasize the close relationship between love and destructiveness—an eerily appropriate observation, since the Circle is a dangerous, destructive company that nonetheless professes to love its users.