The Circle

The Circle Summary and Analysis of Book 2 Part 1 (pp. 309-385)


Mae now works full time showing viewers around the Circle’s daily action. Ninety percent of Washington has gone transparent (in a process now called “Clarification”), and Mae herself has 2.1 million followers and ranks in the top 10 of PartiRank. The buzz around the Circle now is all about “Completion,” though nobody knows exactly what that will entail. On the day Book 2 commences, Mae has an assignment to broadcast Stenton’s new aquarium (now replete with sea creatures from the Marianas Trench thanks to a ship developed by the Circle), specifically the feeding of a new shark who itself is transparent so that one can see the food it eats being quickly processed in its body. As the feeding is winding down, Mae spies Kalden skulking in the doorway and heads off in pursuit while trying to act for her viewers like this is routine meandering through the Circle’s busy offices. Just when she has lost sight of him, she gets a call from him saying he has blocked the audio on her recorder momentarily but that they have to meet, ending with his belief that Completion will be a bad thing for all humanity.

Mae proceeds to Customer Experience, where she still puts in a few hours a week, to clear her mind with some routine work. However, since she is now so well-known, and since the Customer Experience team has recently started stressing reciprocity in customer interactions, Mae gets caught up responding to customers who want to engage personally with her. However Mae makes it through her day and settles into the dorm she has now been occupying for 6 weeks straight. Mae begins the next morning with a tour of some educational programs that leads her to interact with Francis, who suddenly seems attractive to her again in light of a certain confidence she sees in him as well as a clear attraction to him by another of his female coworkers.

Mae waits outside for Annie, returning from an extended business trip, and shows her viewers a new, giant, glass sculpture of a hand reaching through a computer screen entitled “Reaching Through for the Good of Humankind.” Finally, Mae sees Annie and follows her, though it seems as if her friend is purposefully avoiding her, until finally getting close enough to welcome her with a hug and introduce her to the viewers. Annie seems somewhat annoyed, but then decides to disclose a new program called PastPerfect that allows one to track one's family history and see every piece of relevant information about one's ancestors using digitized photos, videos, and news reports. They leave the conversation officially on the fact that they don’t yet have a first person to test the search on, but Annie asks Mae to accompany her to the bathroom where Mae’s audio will be off. There, Annie and Mae have a conversation in which Annie’s envy of Mae’s situation is clear. When they broach the topic of Completion, Annie seems to know some things Mae does not, but Mae counters by revealing that she will be broadcasting a sensitive meeting the next day. The girls finally separate and Mae stays in her bathroom stall sobbing for a few minutes before hurrying to an appointment with Dr. Villalobos.

At the clinic, Dr. Villalobos introduces Mae to a program called CHAD or Complete Health Data which supplies real-time data about the health of everyone at the Circle. However, Dr. Villalobos also wants to tell Mae that one of her viewers has been researching her DNA markers along with the food she’s been eating and has recognized an elevated risk of cancer. Finally, she shows that Mae’s parents have apparently covered up most of the SeeChange cameras that were equipped throughout their house along with the coverage of their medical treatment. Mae reveals that she hasn’t talked to her parents in over a week, but promises to pay them a visit to remedy the situation.

Mae leaves work at five and drives home to her parents’ house, on the way comparing her parents despairingly with Annie’s pristine family line tracing back to the Mayflower. She thinks back to the first time she had dinner at home with her transparency, a time that went very well, and hopes that this time will go even better. At dinner her parents act strangely, cooperating in conversation about fixing the cameras but sending each other sidelong glances, and finally coming out and saying that it has been very taxing to respond to all the people messaging them since the last time they were on Mae’s feed. When Mae leaves for the night, her mother gives her a note from Mercer. In the letter, he says hello to her audience and then proceeds to say that he can’t see her again, he has helped them cover the cameras, and her hyper-connected network has taken things too far. She decides that if her parents really are so upset she should confront them and walks back to her house. When she finds the house eerily deserted downstairs, she goes upstairs and she and all her viewers find them engaging in oral sex in their bedroom. She calls Bailey directly to ask if it can be deleted, but the answer is no.

Mae drives back to the Circle, resenting the chaotic world outside the confines of its campus. She begins answering queries but she again is swamped by customers who are offended when she does not give them all of her attention; she feels the tear inside her again and hears screams like those of drowning people. After calming down by answering a few CircleSurveys questions, she decides to see Francis since he is the only person she can find awake. Once there, he apologizes for his prior actions again and tells her that he did find a lot of the foster families he had stayed with. Francis tells her about a sexual fantasy he has where a sexy housewife invites him in and the two play out the scenario, ending in a short bout of sex. Afterwards, Mae feels content, and when they are falling asleep he tells her that he has a second fantasy that she rate his performance on a scale from 1 to 100, and though she is uncomfortable she gives him the 100 rating he desires.


The transparent shark, which we see devour other creatures now and in a later section, clearly symbolizes the Circle. Besides devouring everything in its path, it demonstrates that just because something is transparent doesn't mean it isn't powerful and terrifying. Ironically, Mae's followers are titillated by the display.

Tension begins to strain many of Mae's relationships to the limit - she is unclear on whether and how to heed Kalden's warnings, she and Annie begin to cultivate a competitive animosity, she alienates her parents perhaps permanently, and Mercer continues to pull away from her while reminding her of an outsider's point of view on the Circle. Instead of attempting to remedy these relationships, Mae focuses on her work duties and virtual relationships with customers and viewers, foreshadowing the only relationships she will have left at the end of the novel (Francis, perhaps Eamon Bailey, and her viewers).

The Chinese sculpture, created by a darkly sardonic artist, but interpreted as supporting the Circle, is an obvious irony. Mae even says that she feels the message of the sculpture must be obvious to everyone, interviewing some other employees who back up her supposition. The Circle already has an allusion to Communism in its Gang of 40 (likely a reference to the Gang of Four, a faction of four officials of the Chinese Communist Party during the Cultural Revolution) and this drives home the connection between overreaching government and technological involvement in private affairs.

Dr. Villalobos's reveal of Mae's cancer risk briefly parodies a modern conflict of having perhaps too much information. Because of advanced medical techniques, one can calculate the risk for all kinds of diseases. This information can be used to adjust one's lifestyle, which is positive if the risk is high and the adjustment preventative, but can also be simply taxing if one now feels burdened by the knowledge when a risk is simply a propensity toward a medical condition rather than an indication of truly having that medical condition itself.

When Mae drives back to the Circle after leaving her parents' house, she notes that she feels uncomfortable anywhere that isn't the campus because of the homelessness, smells, and general chaos. This is what the Circle has been steering her toward - staying on campus at all times, insulated from the reality of a world that doesn't necessarily need absolute and Circle-mandated connection and order.