The Circle

The Circle Summary and Analysis of Book 1 Part 4 (pp. 192-309)


To increase her PartiRank, Mae stays overnight in the HomeTown dorms. The next day, she receives many compliments on her PartiRank; she works hard during the rest of the week to break into the 2,000 range made up of an elite group of Circlers called the T2K. On Thursday she works through the night without sleep. She becomes unsatisfied with the number of things she tracks about herself. In a caffeinated haze, Mae realizes that she has become anxious about not knowing things, especially after the scary meetings she’s been having and lack of communication from Kalden. She also remarks that she has been feeling a “black rip” within her through which she can hear “the screams of millions of invisible souls.”

She asks Francis to hang out late that night, and he invites her to his dorm. He makes her a drink, confessing that he has to take a few shots to get to sleep every night, and Mae both thinks this is sad and knows she’ll try it the next day. They put on some music and start to look through a photo album of different foster homes Francis and his siblings lived at as children; he notes that foster parents never put location markers in photographs given to the children so that they cannot be located again later. He confesses that he brought them here to scan them in an attempt to find some things out. He sees that her pulse is high while looking through the photos and she asks to see his, then begins to excite him sexually while they watch his numbers rise together. She initiates sex with him but he orgasms as he tries to take off his pants, and though Mae is pleased with her power over him she suddenly remembers the helplessness of her father on the couch and decides to leave. As she begins to go she sees Francis take his phone off of a cabinet and realizes he filmed them together. Though she asks him to delete it, knowing he and everyone at the Circle will be able to view it in the future since it is automatically uploaded to the Cloud, he argues that nothing is deleted at the Circle and that the experience is as much his at it is hers.

Mae worries about this video being accessible for a week, discussing it with Annie before a talk by Stenton. Stenton’s talk begins by calling out a member of the Circle, an aging man who has been recording ever moment of his life for the past five years by means of a small camera hung around his neck. Stenton brings up the topic of government and democracy, saying that public trust of Congress hovers at 11 percent (drawing ominous laughter from the audience as the Senator who had been leading the investigation into the Circle was recently found to have ethically problematic content on her computer). Stenton then introduces Congresswoman Santos who has decided to go entirely transparent, meaning she will have video and audio live streaming of all her interactions. She starts her transparency right then and the Circle employees go wild, applauding her and throwing a reception that night.

At the reception, she sees Kalden for the first time in two weeks and berates him lightly for his lack of contact. They have a confusing conversation in which Kalden manages to avoid all of Mae’s questions about what he does at the Circle. They each drink two glasses of wine, and then Kalden offers to let Mae see where “Stewart is stored” since the constant streaming from his life is too hefty to not have its own physical storage unit. They leave the party and go deep down to a basement; Kalden seems somehow to have access to a limitless amount of doors. They look at the storage units for Stewart and Santos, and then Mae kisses Kalden. He leads her to an enormous chamber nearby that was going to be turned into a subway track but may in the future house hundreds of units for the storage of peoples’ transparent lives. He tells her not to tell anyone he has taken her here, then kisses her more and takes her to a recess carved into the wall which he has equipped with a bed and says he sleeps in sometimes. They have sex there, with him speaking her name into her ear.

In the morning, Mae tells Annie about the encounter, but keeps the details hidden. Annie again presses her to find out his name when Mae reveals that all she has gained in terms of contact is a number at which to call him. Mae calls the number after the girls finish talking and finds it only rings and rings without a voicemail, meaning he still has absolute control over when they make contact. During lunch Mae is set up with a tiny headset so that she can participate in CircleSurveys, a program that asks survey questions, mostly for consumer purposes, throughout the day. This adds another “layer” to Mae’s work and another screen to her desk; the employee training her says she is expected to answer around 500 questions a day. When a question is ready for Mae to answer she hears a customized chime, but she is especially taken with the sound that plays to remind her of a question she hasn’t responded to when first asked: a version of her voice that sounds slightly off saying her own name quietly. Mae is able to integrate CircleSurvey into her daily routine, answering almost 1000 questions on the third day she has it and using it to distract her from Kalden’s lack of contact.

Over the following weeks, more and more elected officials go transparent, and those who haven’t begin to feel pressured by non-transparency’s apparent nature of hiding something. Furthermore, officials who challenge the Circle seem to all end up on the news days later being arrested for criminal online activity. The Circle begins to implement its own transparency plan, putting SeeChange cameras everywhere on campus, including eight in Mae’s pod. It becomes clear that many outsiders are watching Mae specifically and communicating with her throughout the day. One day, Mae is asked to send a smile to a woman who has escaped rape and prostitution under a paramilitary group in Guatemala to show her support and to send a frown to the paramilitary group itself. After doing so, Mae pauses briefly to think about the consequences of this action, but this thought is interrupted by a call from Kalden. She tells him that she is currently in the bathroom and he joins her there; they have quick but passionate sex inside a bathroom stall. As he is leaving she takes a quick picture of him, capturing only his right arm as he goes out the door.

Mae adds on another layer, Conversion Rate and Retail Raw, which together track the amount of impact that one’s support of a product has on its sales. To Mae’s befuddlement, the woman teaching Mae to use this new feature becomes very distressed by Mae’s closeness with Annie. A few nights later, Mae travels back to her home to have dinner with her parents. Unbeknownst to her they have invited her ex-boyfriend Mercer, who has just gifted them one of his antler chandeliers, for dinner as well. Mae compliments the chandelier effusively to Mercer, and seeing his pleasure in this she takes a picture and goes upstairs to post the photo and Mercer’s contact information on her feed and other relevant sites. When she reveals this to Mercer he is really unhappy with her, but she is deaf to his pleas to stop because of her obsessive thoughts about PartiRank, Conversion Rate, and Retail Raw. Mercer leaves the house and Mae follows him to his car where he berates her, telling her that she doesn’t realize that technology and the people who produce it aren’t always benevolent and that she is boring now that she spends all of her life producing more and more data about herself and doing less and less offline.

Mae is infuriated by the conversation and drives back to her apartment fuming. On the way, she sees a sign for a kayak rental, though she knows it will be closed since it is almost 10 o’clock. However, when she gets there she finds a kayak outside of the locked area. She hesitates briefly, then drags the kayak to the water and sets out to Blue Island, a jagged and rarely visited island far out in the Bay. Yet again, a seal stares at her and follows her for some of her journey, but the animal leaves her before she reaches the island. Once there, she climbs to the peak of the rock, reveling in the fact that almost nobody had been there. She finds a nest in a tree at the peak and badly wants to see what’s inside, but can’t get high enough and knows that by taking it down to look she would upset the delicate contents. Now, looking out at the water, she is able to take comfort in not knowing everything, or even much at all.

When Mae arrives back at the shore in her kayak she is confronted by the police, who had been tipped off both by an anonymous caller and from a SeeChange camera that had been posted on the beach. Marion has her cleared of all charges, and she sleeps fitfully but returns to the Circle in the morning feeling as if she has a clean slate. However, in the morning Dan calls her in to a meeting and reveals that the Circle knows she was questioned by the police and finds it especially troubling that she was caught doing something criminal by a technology created right there at the Circle. Dan sends Mae to talk to Eamon Bailey, one of the Wise Men, who has taken interest in the incident.

That evening, Mae is led to Bailey’s office. They sit down, and he asks her how she feels about the incident and whether she would have done it had she known SeeChange cameras were present; Mae replies negatively to both. Bailey also questions her on whether secrets between people can ever be a good thing, to which Mae at first answers affirmatively thinking of her secrets regarding Kalden, but then changes her mind. Bailey goes so far as to say he believes all governments should disclose all of their plans to the people they govern and to the world, and that this would reduce wars based on supposition. He believes that in a world where everyone “has the tools to know anything” and where everyone is being watched, bad choices will no longer be an option, thus perfecting human beings. Finally, he asks if she has anything else to tell him and she reveals that she has been in his library before with Annie, which he promptly forgives.

At that week’s Dream Friday, Mae speaks alongside Bailey in front of all of the Circle to tell her story of nighttime kayaking and being caught by the SeeChange cameras. She announces that she will be going transparent immediately. They present three new slogans to the Circle - “Secrets are Lies,” “Sharing is Caring,” and “Privacy is Theft.”


The introduction of "the tear" shows just how far Mae has been pushed into mental dysfunction by working at the Circle for such a short time. She hears the screaming voices of others, meaning even in her head there is no escape from the masses that she, with her recent focus on PartiRank, constantly presents to herself. Mae will continue to question the source and meaning of this black tear, deciding it represents lack of total knowledge or, alternately, too much.

This section focuses on the theme of transparency, introducing Stewart and then Congresswoman Santos in quick succession, and then detailing Kalden and Mae's descent to the underbelly of the campus to look at Stewart's storage unit. This focus, especially Mae's fascination with the storage unit as a physical representation of Stewart's experiences, foreshadow Mae's transparency, the final occurrence in this section and in Book 2.

Kalden's use of Mae's name during sex and the use of her own name and voice for CircleSurveys highlights the importance of names in the book and especially to Mae. Names are representations of identity, something Mae seeks to find or build in real life and online. Their use means that someone is acknowledging one's existence and importance, though Mae and Kalden's relationship remain unbalanced due to her inability to return this acknowledgement and substantiate what they are to one another.

More and more "layers" are piled on Mae - she maintains an incredibly high PartiRank while being introduced to CircleSurveys, Conversion Rate, and Retail Raw. SeeChange cameras are installed throughout the Circle, and Mae begins to keep secrets from Annie and everyone else about her relationship with Kalden, adding a new level of mental pressure.

Mae's final kayaking adventure is filled with imagery and represents her last time truly in touch with life outside the Circle. While she is experiencing nature, she realizes that she does not need or want to know everything. However, once she is caught, Bailey is able to shape her feelings and even her memory into being one of selfishness and the necessity of constant surveillance and information-sharing. With their joint presentation at Dream Friday, Mae becomes the public face of the Circle and her life changes permanently.