Eggers is not shy with the main theme behind his technological satire: modernization comes at a high price. The fates of many of the novel's important supporting characters demonstrate this theme. Mae's demonstration of a technology supposedly harnessing social media's prevalence for public good drives her ex-boyfriend Mercer to suicide. A technology meant to help one connect with one's ancestors leads Annie to a nervous breakdown. Mae chooses technology over faith in the well-intentioned doomsdayer Kalden/Ty which has him all but fired from the company he founded. Mae herself notes that because of constant surveillance she has learned "the ability to look, to the outside world, utterly serene and even cheerful, while, in her skull, all war chaos" (325). The main danger of modernity, according to Eggers's novel, is individuals wanting and obtaining too much information about the world, others, and themselves, a motivation that underlies the modern push toward more (and more invasive) technology.
Eggers demonstrates the importance of family by comparing the lives of the novel's characters with particular reference to their relationships with their parents and the impacts of their family on their development. Most obvious is the comparison of Mae and Francis. Mae was raised an only child with two supportive parents, and thus their relationship is fraught with Mae's self-absorption and a discomfort with her parents now relying on her for health coverage. Francis, however, was put in the foster care system at a young age and two of his sisters were abducted and killed; he now is socially stunted, clingy, and sexually inept. Another example is contrast between Annie and Mae's background, especially in terms of socioeconomics. Annie comes from money and is a motivated and cheery young woman. On the other hand, Mae, growing up in the middle class with parents who jointly own a parking lot, feels constantly as if she owes Annie for helping her get a job and works terrifically hard in her first weeks to rise in the ranks. Furthermore, the turning point in their relationship, giving Mae the upper hand in the company, is when Annie begins to learn problematic things about her ancestors, shaking her self-confidence and ability to face society. Eggers uses the importance of this theme to drive home the dystopia of the novel's end - Mae sits next to her comatose friend at the Circle and thinks that she has "not reached her parents in a few months now," noting lightly that she will wait for technology to bring them back together.
"My God, Mae thought. It's heaven." This thought begins and continues throughout The Circle. For example, the founders of the company are three Wise Men doling out technological gifts to society, though these gifts lead to suicide and breakdown in many of Mae's closest relations. Kalden kisses Mae in the sign of the cross after their first sexual encounter and soon contacts her about the downfall of humanity. The night that Mae suggests the idea for Demoxie, a drunk man man approaches her in a bar to tell her she has "found a way to save all the souls" and draws a circle in the air that Mae realizes is in the shape of a halo. Eggers uses religion to underscore the terrifying and cult-like nature of the total devotion and idealism of Mae and other believers in the Circle's purportedly benevolent rise to power, and to beg the question of whether more technology is leading society toward heaven or perhaps hell.
Sex, Lust, and Love
Mae has sexual relationships with two men in the novel (Francis and Kalden) and thinks back on a third (Mercer). In all of these relationships there seems to be a period of infatuation in which, directly after their first encounters, Mae cannot stop thinking about them. This colors her world positively, but can soon slip into anger and disgust due to lack of contact or miscommunication. This parallels Mae's relationship with technology to some extent. Technology adds new "layers" to her life, but potentially overwhelms her when the excitement wears off. Mae portrays some unappealing representations of women in relationships: the hot and cold ex, the obsessive and often tipsy hook-up, and the resigned girlfriend. However, these realities all demonstrate a lack of true connection and communication that is satirical in light of the Circle's purported aid of communication and knowledge.
As a classic coming-of-age tale, Mae attempts to define her identity as an adult in the working world. However, the novel also addresses the pitfalls of attempting to create an online identity. TruYou, the original idea behind the Circle, combines all online interaction into one identity. In turn, the company uses this identity in various ways to pull information and cater services to employees and customers. Through Gus's LuvLuv presentation we see a notable example of an online identity's inadequacy. Mae is made uncomfortable by a program attempting to create a person and infer further information about her using what she has posted online. She is confused by the fact that she is indeed trying to create an online persona that represents her and will make people like her. Mercer notes the irony in this attempt, telling her that as she works more and more on her online identity, she is creating a less complex and colorful persona in the real world. Thus, the creation of one's identity and the ability of others to understand that identity is crucial to Mae's journey at the Circle and is a major question regarding the limits of technology.
"Knowledge is a basic human right. Equal access to all possible human experience is a basic human right," says Eamon Bailey. This is one of two major rights Eggers espouses satirically in The Circle - equal access and equal say. In an age of increased pressure for equality between races, genders, sexualities, and more, at first glance something titled equality can seem only for the better. However, we see that total access can be destructive when private information is made public for all (e.g., Mae and Francis's dirty video, Annie's family history). Furthermore, support for totally equal say - demonstrated through the lauding of Demoxie by Circlers and the public alike as a new and necessary kind of democracy better able to serve the people - is almost laughable. Both ideas of supposed steps forward in human rights show the problematic nature of attempting to scale up technological advancement and ability into political or social policy.
The Imporance of Names
"'Mae.' She felt stronger every time she heard it."
Eggers demonstrates the power of names to Mae through her intoxication by this approximation of her voice saying her name as a reminder to answer a CircleSurveys question. She also feels most aroused by Kalden when he is saying her name, perhaps because hearing her name feels like the existence and shared knowledge she craves. In contrast, Kalden's lack of name serves as a major fixation for Mae since it reveals how little she knows about him; a lack of mutual connection and hindrance of her ability to gain information.
Names are shown as having the power to give things greater worth, such as Mae's comparison of her old building, 3B-East, to the buildings of the Circle which are named after famous time periods - the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Old West - and take on some of the grandeur of those names. Each new technology is named something trendy but meaningful, and we witness Francis's delight at the change of his technology from Child Track to TruYouth when it begins to get off the ground.
Finally, Mae is disquieted when Renata has chosen a username for her - MaeDay - as it takes away her power to define her own online identity. However, the carelessness with which it is done and the way Mae must accept it parallels the Circle's casual power over her.
The Circle Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Circle is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.