The Circle

The Circle Summary and Analysis of Book 2 Part 2 (pp. 385-466)


At the Concept Kingdom meeting, the meeting which miffed Annie that Mae has access to, Bailey announces a new concept that would increase democratic participation by automatically registering those with Circle profiles and then taking all voting to the same online platform. As Bailey talks, Mae raises her hand and tentatively states an idea: to increase voting the government might require all voting-
age citizens to have a Circle account. Stenton and Bailey chime in, enumerating other things that are required by law and discussing the feasibility of freezing members profiles until they have voted. Annie defiantly asks a few questions of Mae, but they are shot down by the Wise Men, who move on to taxes and all other government services being dealt with much more cheaply and effectively through the Circle. The meeting ends with Stenton noting the United States may not even need a Congress now that the will of the people can now be gauged so quickly.

Mae and Francis leave together and Mae is recognized everywhere. At a quiet restaurant, an older man sits down with them and tells Mae that for 20 years he has felt removed from the spiritual life, but now she has found a way to save all of the souls and create a world in which all people will be able to be God and cast judgment on one another. Mae and Francis laugh at the man, though apologizing all the while.

Mae wakes up with Francis in her bed the next day and sees that Kalden is calling but lets it go to voicemail repeatedly. Mae is invited that morning to see what developers have been working on all night - her idea, now called “Demoxie,” which requires all users to answer whatever questions are being displayed before the rest of their messaging systems can be unfrozen. That afternoon, the programmers plan a campus-
wide trial of the new feature, and just before this time Mae finally decides to pick up one of Kalden’s calls. He tells her that her new idea of mandatory Circle profiles is what will finally close the Circle and create a tyrannical monopoly. She hangs up on him and goes out to answer the five Demoxie questions with the rest of the campus. The first three questions are light, but the fourth involves deciding a course of action on a drone strike, for which the campus votes 71% pro, and the fifth simply asks “Is Mae Holland awesome or what?” When the votes for the fifth question are tabulated Mae gets 97 percent, and she becomes immediately obsessed with the 3 percent, or almost 400 people, who gave her a frown rather than a smile, equating this to them loathing her and even voting to kill her.

As Mae walks dazedly toward the Customer Experience building, she runs into Annie who excitedly tells her she herself, with such a notably long family tree in America, will be the first person to try out the lineage-
tracking program PastPerfect. Mae is taken aback that Annie volunteered rather than having it be someone less known, but when Annie turns the conversation to her parents she quickly ends the conversation. Mae ruminates on how Annie’s socioeconomic background continues to keep her in second place, and then ricochets back to escalating panic over the Demoxie vote. She decides to do some work in Customer Experience to calm down and after staying four hours she returns to Francis’s dorm where he again orgasms before they can truly initiate sex.

Mae wakes up in the middle of the night, still fretting over the vote, and Francis encourages her to look up who frowned at her, telling her the voting results are all public. However, when he tries to show her the list she backs away and asks him to stop trying to show it to her. She goes in the shower to calm down and decides that this really is the dawning of a more pure kind of democracy in which people will be unafraid to cast and be held accountable for their votes.

Mae attends an Aspirant session where young entrepreneurs are given the chance to have their works-in-progress backed by the Circle and join immediately as employees. A main trend seems to be technological aids for locating criminals: coloring people differently by the crimes they’ve committed, tracking closely the inhabitants of a neighborhood’s homes, or even tracking specific movements within a home for domestic violence. During this last presentation a participant demonstrates a loud alarm which momentarily enrages Stenton.

After the meeting, Annie asks Mae to meet her again in the bathroom, and this time she dramatically announces that the PastPerfect project has dredged up some unsavory things about her ancestors, namely that they were slave owners. Mae tells Annie not to worry, and when the news comes out the next day people do seem to deal with it well. The incident provokes Mercer to write Mae another letter that tells her to encourage Annie to end her participation in PastPerfect, that people can only contain so much, and that he is fleeing north and will keep moving away from the reach of the Circle. Mae scoffs at the note, but the next day Annie summons her to the bathroom again in tears and says there are more problems in her family’s history. Two days later, even more information is discovered about Annie’s parents and she sends the zing, “Actually, I don’t know if we should know everything.” However, she, or another employee, edits the post later to jokingly fall within Circle thought. Annie and Mae converse about this one more time in the bathroom, and then Annie retreats to her office to lie down. Mae proceeds to ask her viewers to forgive Annie for her family’s wrongs and send her as much compassion as they can, which viewers receive with mixed results mostly due to stirrings over the slavery cases unearthed.

Mae gives another full Circle presentation, this time about a new technology called SoulSearch which will crowdsource the finding 
of criminals. She demonstrates the program in front of the crowd by selecting a random fugitive of the law by photograph and sending all of the Circle’s social media followers to find her. This results in her being found and arrested in just over 10 minutes. Because someone in the crowd asks to do another, Mae decides to show Mercer the power of the network by sending people in pursuit of him. This time, he is located in just over 8 minutes, but he dodges his pursuers and gets in his truck. One of the followers manages to place a SeeChange camera on the passenger window but he locates it and dislodges it so that Mae calls for the release of drones to follow him. Mae talks to Mercer through one of the drones, thinking the whole situation amusing, but more people begin to talk to Mercer through the drones and in a moment determination comes over Mercer’s face and he drives himself directly off the bridge.


Things escalate quickly after Mae introduces the idea for Demoxie, and this section brings us to the climax of the book when Mae and the Circle drive Mercer to commit suicide. However, Mae is buffered the entire time by support from the Wise Men (besides Ty, though she doesn't yet know this) and her viewers. This support is shaken during the Demoxie trial run and when Francis offers to show Mae the list of employees who gave her a frown. She momentarily relapses into the view that being all-knowing is negative, but she snaps out of this and her fixation on those who do not support her, which gives her the ability to continue aiding the Circle toward Completion.

The theme of religion is hit hard in this section by the old, spiritually lapsed man who approaches Mae and Francis and tells her she has saved all the souls, drawing a circle in the air that Mae compares to a halo. This comparison to religion both underscores the Circle's cult-like nature and begs the question of whether the story is progressing toward a heaven-like utopia or hell-like dystopia - perhaps answered by Mercer's suicide and Annie's breakdown.

Mae has clearly surpassed Annie at this point, and though she attempts to wield this power for good (asking her viewers to show Annie support after information is revealed about her family through PastPerfect) it is not enough to save her friend who is crippled under the pressure and lack of privacy of the Circle. Mae is clearly proud of this dominance over Annie, without seemingly any real connection as friends remaining.

Mae continues her relationship with Francis, who doesn't seem to fulfill her emotionally or sexually but who mutually needs his existence confirmed and even numerically calculated. He is someone as dependent on the Circle as Mae, and also seems to not see the governmental implications of the technology he is helping to develop. Unlike Annie, he seems pleased with the information he has been able to gather on his family, and the only indication that he is less than satisfied with his life at the Circle remains the fact that he has to drink himself to sleep.

Due to Mae's hand in the Circle's near Completion through Demoxie, which is supposedly democratic but realistically leads to either mob-rule or totalitarianism, and her direct influence on Mercer's suicide, it is difficult to decide whether she is either the protagonist and villain of the novel. If nothing else, as Mercer warns her, she is one of many who are innocent in themselves and guilty en masse.