The Circle


The Circle is a 2013 dystopian novel written by American author Dave Eggers.[2][3][4] The novel chronicles tech worker Mae Holland as she joins a powerful Internet company. Her initially rewarding experience turns darker.

Plot summary

The book follows the story of Mae Holland, a recent college graduate who lands a job at The Circle, a powerful technology company run by the so-called "Three Wise Men." Mae owes her job largely to her best friend and college roommate, Annie, one of the forty most influential people in the company. Mae starts out in Customer Experience (CE), the firm's customer service department, but quickly climbs the company ladder. From the beginning, Mae is impressed by amenities at the Circle, including access to top-notch technology, dorm-like housing, gyms, recreation activities and parties. Mae's very first day at the Circle ends with a party where she encounters Francis, who remains a love interest throughout the rest of the novel. Later, Mae encounters and quickly becomes romantically involved with a mysterious colleague named Kalden, even though she is unable to verify his status at the company, or even obtain his last name.

Meanwhile, the Circle continues to develop a range of sophisticated technologies, including SeeChange: light, portable cameras that can provide real-time video with minimal efforts. Eventually, SeeChange cameras are worn all day long by politicians wishing to be 'transparent', allowing the public to see what they are seeing at all times.

Another subplot is the diagnosis of Mae's father with multiple sclerosis, which eventually leads Mae to enroll her parents on her health care, which in turn drives them to install SeeChange cameras in their home. After a brief incident with her own legal issues, Mae ends up agreeing to wear a SeeChange device herself (called going transparent), representing her own growing role in the company, epitomized by a public talk in which she insists, "secrets are lies," "sharing is caring," and "privacy is theft." Mae's job now mainly consists of touring the campus and showing customers future products; any hints of her own doubts about privacy seem dropped, in contrast to her ex-boyfriend Mercer. He has internet phobia and eventually insists on going off the grid to escape the more and more far-reaching influence of the Circle and its technologies. Kalden calls Mae, warning her that The Circle must be stopped, but she refuses to listen. Mae’s indoctrination into the company and its use of peer pressure to invoke “herd mentality” is directly contrasted by the character of Mercer. Mercer represents a small portion of the book’s world that rejects the Circle’s ever more intrusive technologies. Throughout the novel he goes from having a benign distaste for the ways of the present to attempting to escape from his doomed society. The evolution of his world-view culminates in a scene in which he’s exposed in his hiding and is chased by Mae using Circle drones. He willingly drives his truck off of a bridge to escape the Circle’s grasp, proving that resistance of the Circle’s ways is futile.

Meanwhile, Annie becomes envious of Mae's success and volunteers to be the test subject for PastPerfect, a new product that tracks a person's family history and activities, to regain her standing within the company. Disturbing facts about Annie's family history come to light and she becomes increasingly stressed, eventually causing her to fall into a catatonic state. Embarrassed both by her parents' distrust of SeeChange monitoring in their home and the conduct of her ex, Mercer - all of which have been publicly accessible to Mae's millions of followers - Mae becomes upset that they have embarrassed her in this way and, while demonstrating a program designed to catch fugitives within minutes, uses it to find Mercer. He attempts to escape using his truck, but after drones prevent him from getting away, Mercer seems to make a decision and ends up driving off a bridge in front of the billion people Mae is streaming to. While initially depressed, Mae soon rationalizes Mercer's death with the help of charismatic 'Wise Man' Eamon Bailey, concluding that he was an extremely depressed, asocial human being who refused society's help, comparing his actions to a person committing suicide by jumping out of the window when being visited by a doctor.

Kalden is, in fact, the elusive "Wise Man" Ty Gospodinov, the original inventor and founder who came up with the idea for the company. Mae agrees to meet him in secret and he tells her that a totalitarian regime will soon arise if nothing is done to stop it, equating it to a surveillance society. He explains the need for privacy in the digital age and asks her to help him take down the Circle, saying he cannot do it alone. Mae thinks that he is crazy, but pretends to go along with him, but then betrays him by telling the other founders of the Circle what has happened, who ensure that Ty is silenced. The book ends with Mae looking at Annie in a coma at the hospital, wondering when the time will come that the circle will develop enough technology to read people's thoughts, saying that "the world deserves nothing less and would not wait".


On review aggregating website iDreamBooks, The Circle has a score of 66% based on reviews from 50 critics.[5]

Upon the book's summer 2014 release in German, the weekly magazine Der Spiegel's Thomas Andre gave a favorable review: "The Circle is a genre novel, with its simplistic fabrication meant to be obvious. The symbolism is abundantly clear, because it is Eggers' only way of bringing his message to the ear: How do we mean to handle the right to sovereignty of interpretation over one's own life in the future?"[6] On the other hand, German blogger and internet columnist Sascha Lobo called the book a "demonization" of internet companies that offers no actual arguments.[7]

Film adaptation

A film based on the novel, adapted and directed by James Ponsoldt, was released in April 2017. Emma Watson (Mae Holland), Tom Hanks (Bailey), Karen Gillan (Annie), Ellar Coltrane (Mercer) and John Boyega (Kalden) play the lead roles.[8][9] The film made over $20 million in the box office but it received very low reviews. The film review website, Rotten Tomatoes, gave the adaptation a rating of 16/100. The Rotten Tomatoes site also offers the following quote as a critic consensus: "The Circle assembles an impressive cast, but this digitally driven thriller spins aimlessly in its half-hearted exploration of timely themes."[10]

“The Circle” movie is not an exact representation of the novel. Due to the need to narrow down the story so that it fits into a 2-hour film The Circle director, James Ponsoldt decided to remove some characters from the plot[11] and also change a vast majority of the elements in it. Certain changes are not so crucial, for example, in the novel when Mae starts at the Circle she is first placed at the desk that looks exactly like the one from the utility company she previously worked for and this was a silly joke made by Annie. However, in the movie, this and other short humorous moments are mainly omitted to make the plot come across as more serious.

Ponsoldt did not limit himself to eliminating minor episodes from the plot he went as far as removing the character of Francis, Mae’s love interest who played quite an important role in the novel[12]. Moreover, even the episode of Annie being in a coma was eliminated. Due to all of those changes listed above, it felt that movie slightly lost its dystopian atmosphere. Even the tone of the ending has been changed, Mae who comes across as evil in the novel is portrayed as quite sympathetic (at least to those who are close to her) in the movie. That being said, the writer of the novel David Eggers claims that even though the atmosphere of the movie and its ending particularly, are a bit different it does not turn the plot and does not make the movie happy [12].

Connections to Reality

Close, and frightening, parallels can be drawn between some of the themes in The Circle and then events unfolding in Xinjiang, China.  Similar to the idea of SeeChange, vast numbers of surveillance cameras have been installed throughout the region to monitor and later analyze behavior using sophisticated artificial intelligence software.  They justify this blatant violation of privacy rights in the name of national security[13].  After all, as Bailey said in The Circle, who would commit a crime knowing they might be watched any time, anywhere?  It is speculated that a similarly invasive technology will be rolled out nationwide in the future[13].  Already, suspects flagged by the system are being detained, even if they have not yet committed and perhaps never would, commit any crimes.  As Ty said in The Circle, everyone will be tracked, cradle to grave, with no possibility of escape. We’re closing the circle around everyone—it’s a totalitarian nightmare.

In The Circle Mae was taken on a tour of her new workplace, and eventually ended up at a cubicle set up by her friend Annie. The work space was lined with burlap. Mae extremely hated the material, as it reminded her of her old dreary job at a utility company. She goes on to say how she came from the small town of Longfield, California.  She was one of twelve out of her class of 80 to go to a four year college, and the only one that went east of Colorado. These facts highlight realities faced by many youth living in rural parts of the United States. A report published by the National Center for Education Statistics says that in 2004 “College enrollment rates for both 18- to 24-year olds and 25- to 29-year olds were generally lower in rural areas than in all other locales,”[14] . Also, “The percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree as their highest level of educational attainment in 2004 was lower in rural areas” [14], sitting at 13%, compared to a 17% national average [14]. Further, Mae was a graduate of Carlton, and was said to have spent $234,000 on “elite liberal arts education” [15]. She was overqualified and not suited for the position at the utility company. A 2013 study released by the non-profit Center for College Affordability and Productivity said that “Nearly half of working Americans with college degrees are in jobs for which they're overqualified” [16]. It goes on to say that “the trend is likely to continue for newly minted college graduates over the next decade” [16].

  1. ^ "Jessica Hische - The Circle cover art". Jessica Hische. Retrieved 2014-01-10. 
  2. ^ Publisher Alfred A. Knopf announcement of new novel by Eggers "The Circle"
  3. ^ Article: "Eggers new novel shuns the Internet"
  4. ^ Wall Street Journal review of Eggers' "The Circle"
  5. ^ "The Circle by Dave Eggers - Reviews & Ratings | iDreamBooks". Retrieved 2016-02-29. 
  6. ^ Diskussion um US-Bestseller "The Circle": Die Tyrannei des Internets. Thomas Andre for Spiegel Online. Retrieved 2014-08-04. (German)
  7. ^ S.P.O.N. - Die Mensch-Maschine: Dämonisierte Digitalkonzerne. Sascha Lobo for Spiegel Online. Retrieved 2014-08-04. (German)
  8. ^ Lussier, Germain (25 June 2015). "Emma Watson And Tom Hanks Will Battle An Evil Facebook In The Circle". io9. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  9. ^ McNary, Dave (1 September 2015). "Karen Gillan Joins Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, John Boyega in 'The Circle'". Variety. Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  10. ^ The Circle, retrieved 2018-03-08 
  11. ^ Truffaut-Wong, Olivia. “The Circle Changed A Big Part Of The Book.” Bustle, Bustle, 22 Feb. 2018,
  12. ^ a b Guerrasio, Jason. “The director of 'The Circle' explains why the movie makes huge changes from the book.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 28 Apr. 2017,
  13. ^ a b "'Big data' predictions spur detentions in China's Xinjiang: Human..." Reuters. 2018-03-01. Retrieved 2018-03-08. 
  14. ^ a b c Qingshu, Provasnik, Stephen|KewalRamani, Angelina|Coleman, Mary McLaughlin|Gilbertson, Lauren|Herring, Will|Xie, (2007/07/00). "Status of Education in Rural America. NCES 2007-040". National Center for Education Statistics.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  15. ^ Dave., Eggers,. The circle : a novel. New York. ISBN 9780385351393. OCLC 856053194. 
  16. ^ a b Marklein, Mary Beth (January 28, 2013). "Study: Nearly half are overqualified for their jobs". USA Today. Retrieved March 10, 2018. 

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