The Circle

The Circle Summary and Analysis of Book 1 Part 2 (pp. 84-146)


Mae returns to work on Monday morning and is again swept up in answering customers’ queries. Francis invites her to lunch wherein they discuss his project with the Circle, ChildTrack, a chip implanted in children’s bones to allow parents and the police to track them at all times. At the end of the workday, Dan calls Mae into his office. Mae goes to the bathroom before the meeting and takes note of a man standing in the hallway; he introduces himself as Kalden and asks to watch her work. She consents, wondering whether he could be a spy of some kind though she takes note of his ID cord and his promise that he has worked there for a while.

After watching her curiously for some minutes, Kalden leaves quickly and a woman named Gina appears to set up Mae’s social accounts. Mae accidentally offends her multiple times, first regarding social life at the Circle as “extracurricular,” leading Gina to again stress the importance of maintaining a social community on the Circle’s campus, and then on the subject of her close friendship with Annie, which Gina clearly envies. Gina describes how to navigate her Zing account, both the InnerCircle stream (for fellow workers at the Circle) on which Mae has amassed over 8,000 messages during the past week and the OuterCircle stream (for communication with the outside world). Finally, Gina introduces PartiRank, short for Participation Rank, which takes into account all action on the InnerCircle and Gina notes some people take very seriously; Mae’s current ranking is 10,328. Mae sets out to comb through all of her missed messages that very night to demonstrate her devotion to social involvement at the Circle. She reads dated informational emails, responds to surveys and event requests, and gets wrapped up in the comments section of a friend’s post about having a stomach flu. Mae does not finish reading and responding to all of her messages, but finally decides she has to go home.

The next day, Mae begins to integrate monitoring her InnerCircle and OuterCircle feed activity into her already busy daily routine of answering customers. By lunchtime she is exhausted but exhilarated and looks forward to eating lunch with Annie when Dan calls her to his office. He introduces a man named Alistair who she has slighted by not attending his “Portugal brunch.” Mae plays off this apparent faux pas by apologizing and saying she wasn’t sure if she would be welcome there since she is so new. She is thanked and dismissed by Dan, and signs a statement for HR about the meeting. Mae rushes to meet Annie for lunch and Annie reveals that she was listening in on the meeting. Mae feels uneasy about her exposure at first, but then relieved that her friend had been watching over her. Annie reveals that Mae was likely invited to the brunch in the first place because a few pictures were on her computer, and now in the Cloud, from a visit to Portugal five years prior. Annie takes Mae to a building on campus full of free samples from top brands, free to all Circle members, and leaves her there with instructions to take as much as she likes.

Mae left her phone on her desk during lunch and when she returns she finds eleven messages from Annie regarding a comment the latter made about Dan and Alistair. They range from calm to wildly upset and accusatory. Mae immediately calls Annie to apologize and invites her out for a drink that night since she is obviously stressed; Annie declines, so Mae invites Francis out and they drive to San Francisco. After dinner together, Mae kisses Francis, and they adventure through the city kissing passionately throughout. In the following days, Mae feels extremely content and spends more time with Francis.

At that week’s Dream Friday, Francis tells Mae that he thinks she’ll really enjoy the presentation and that they should sit in the front. An employee named Gus presents a new kind of online dating service called LuvLuv that can be used after setting up a date to analyze all data online about the person you are about to meet. Gus asks for a volunteer and Mae is horrified when Francis is called on in a rehearsed manner. Francis allows Gus to analyze Mae’s data with a focus on potential food allergies and then specific restaurants she has posted about liking or disliking as a way to narrow down date options. As soon as she can, Mae leaves the auditorium, mortified and fuming. Francis follows her to her office shortly after and apologizes, but she asks him to leave. Mae tries to pinpoint what made her so uncomfortable about the presentation as Francis does note that she made all the information he used publicly available. She works throughout the afternoon and finally realizes that she has three messages waiting from her mother, all telling her to come home.

Mae races to the hospital in her hometown after learning from her mother that her father has had a seizure. However, when she gets to the hospital he has already been discharged, and when she finally gets home she sees her ex-boyfriend Mercer’s truck in the driveway. Her father assures her that everything is taken care of and that Mercer was a big help. Mae is dismayed that she hurried home only to have been made superfluous by her ex, and at dinner she and he squabble over her reading customer comments regarding his business (selling custom chandeliers made of antlers) and the fact that her life seems consumed by online interaction and evaluation. Mae angrily waits for him to leave and cheers herself up by logging onto her Circle account and answering customer queries.

Mae does little on Saturday, savoring the time to relax and have a simple day with her parents. On Sunday she plans to do much the same, but when her father asks her to help him off the couch and accidentally soils himself, her parents ask her to leave and allow her father some dignity. Mae leaves in a rage, feeling cast out of her home on top of the trouble with Mercer two nights before, and decides to rent a kayak again to let off some steam. She paddles out looking for harbor seals. At first she finds none but then finds two who look at her simultaneously and then leave quickly as if realizing she is uninteresting. Out in the bay, she comes upon a small barge which houses a man and a woman who invite her on board for a drink. They talk for a short time, and then Mae has to leave to return her kayak on time.


With PartiRank, the first extra "layer" of many is added to Mae's life at the Circle. As in the rest of the book, she experiences this as both overwhelming and exhilarating, but she is not immediately addicted to it. Because Mae is still a relative outsider at the company and to the company's (over)use of technology, the reader is presented with moments like Annie's quick spiral from playful to furious because Mae won't answer her phone. Such moments demonstrate at that point that she hasn't fully bought in to constant communication.

Mae is also hit by the realization that her private information has become public when Annie reveals why Alistair invited her to the Portugal Brunch she missed - a geotag on a photo that she'd had on her computer but is now in the Circle's Cloud. This foreshadows a lack of online privacy that seems playful and benevolent for the time being (allowing those with similar interests to be invited to certain events) but can easily turn overpowering and manipulative.

Mae's discomfort with the LuvLuv presentation piggybacks on the discomfort of the sharing of private information, but further attacks Mae's sense of identity. It seems that the image of Mae created during the presentation is incomplete while Gus, Francis, and the audience treat it as solid and complete evidence of her character. This lack of communication about privacy between Francis and Mae also foreshadows later problems in their relationship.

The appearance of Kalden adds an element of mystery to the Circle, and begins the irony of Kalden (who we later learn is Ty) discussing the Circle and the Wise Men disinterestedly to the confusion of Mae. The idea that Kalden may be a spy, which Mae contemplates and Annie later stresses, is ironic because he is indeed to some extent, sneaking around to obtain information on Mae and the Circle's progress to attempt to intervene and undermine the company at the right time.

Mae's experiences at home and out kayaking again demonstrate the differences between life on and off the Circle's campus. Her interaction with Mercer, who will channel Eggers' "danger of modernity" theme, is especially important and will be repeated throughout the novel to shed light and draw allusions to the progression of the company's power.