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The Circle: A Dystopian Novel by Dave Eggers that Explores the Dark Side of Technology

The Circle by Dave Eggers: A Review of the Dystopian Novel

If you are looking for a book that tackles the issues of surveillance, privacy, and technology in our lives, you might want to check out The Circle by Dave Eggers. This bestselling dystopian novel, published in 2013, tells the story of Mae Holland, a young woman who joins the world's most powerful internet company, the Circle, and becomes entangled in its ambitious and dangerous plans for total transparency. In this article, we will provide a summary, an analysis, and a review of The Circle, as well as some questions to think about after reading it.

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What is The Circle about?

The Circle is a novel that explores the consequences of a society where everything is connected, monitored, and controlled by a single corporation, the Circle. The Circle is a tech giant that has developed a universal operating system, TruYou, that links users' personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their online identity. The Circle also runs a sprawling campus in California, where thousands of employees work, live, and socialize. The Circle's motto is "All that happens must be known", and its goal is to achieve "the Completion", a state where everyone and everything is transparent and accountable.

Why is The Circle relevant today?

The Circle is relevant today because it raises important questions about the role of technology in our lives, especially in relation to privacy, democracy, and human knowledge. The novel depicts a dystopian scenario where people willingly give up their privacy and autonomy for convenience, entertainment, and social approval. The novel also shows how technology can be used to manipulate public opinion, influence behavior, and suppress dissent. The novel warns us of the dangers of trusting too much in technology and losing sight of our humanity.

Summary of The Circle

Book I: The Dream

Mae Holland joins the Circle

The novel begins with Mae Holland, a 24-year-old college graduate, starting her first day at the Circle. She is hired as a Customer Experience agent, thanks to her best friend and former roommate, Annie Allerton, who is a high-ranking executive at the Circle. Mae is amazed by the Circle's campus, which offers everything from state-of-the-art facilities, to free concerts, to exotic animals. She is also impressed by the Circle's founders, known as the Three Wise Men: Tom Stenton, the CEO and visionary; Eamon Bailey, the public face and ideologue; and Ty Gospodinov, the reclusive genius and inventor.

Mae meets Francis and Kalden

As Mae settles into her new job, she meets two men who will play important roles in her life. The first is Francis Garaventa, a fellow Circler who works on a project called ChildTrack, which aims to implant microchips in children to prevent kidnapping. Francis is awkward and obsessive, but Mae finds him charming and attractive. They start a sexual relationship, but Mae soon realizes that Francis has some disturbing fantasies and secrets. The second is Kalden, a mysterious man who appears randomly on the campus and flirts with Mae. He claims to be a Circler, but he does not wear an ID badge or have a profile on the Circle's network. He intrigues Mae with his mysteriousness and his criticism of the Circle.

Mae goes transparent

Mae's initial enthusiasm for the Circle is dampened by some incidents that expose her flaws and weaknesses. She is scolded by her supervisors for not being active enough on the Circle's social media platforms, which are mandatory for all Circlers. She is also confronted by her parents and her ex-boyfriend, Mercer Medeiros, who disapprove of her involvement with the Circle and worry about her losing touch with reality. Mercer is a carpenter and an anti-technology activist who accuses the Circle of destroying human relationships and values. Mae's biggest mistake, however, is when she borrows a kayak from the Circle's boathouse without permission and is caught on a camera that was installed by the Circle as part of a project called SeeChange, which aims to place cameras everywhere in the world for transparency and security. Mae is summoned by Eamon Bailey, who scolds her for breaking the law and endangering herself. He then convinces her to go transparent, which means wearing a camera around her neck at all times and broadcasting her life to millions of viewers online. Mae agrees to go transparent, hoping to redeem herself and advance her career at the Circle.

Book II: The Storm

Mae participates in Demoxie

As a transparent person, Mae becomes a celebrity and an influencer at the Circle. She attracts millions of followers who watch her every move and comment on her every thought. She also becomes more involved in the Circle's projects and initiatives, such as PastPerfect, which encourages people to upload their personal histories to the Circle's database; SoulSearch, which helps locate fugitives and criminals by using the Circle's cameras and networks; and Demoxie, which proposes to replace voting with a simple online survey that requires everyone to have a TruYou account. Mae becomes a spokesperson for Demoxie, which is endorsed by Eamon Bailey as a way to achieve true democracy and participation.

Mae confronts Mercer and Annie

Mae's transparency also affects her personal relationships. She alienates her parents, who are embarrassed by her exposure of their private lives, especially when she gives them a camera that records their bedroom activities. She also antagonizes Mercer, who tries to escape from the Circle's surveillance by moving to a remote cabin in the woods. Mae uses SoulSearch to track him down and expose him to her viewers, hoping to convince him to join the Circle. However, Mercer rejects her offer and accuses her of being brainwashed by the Circle. He then drives off a bridge and dies while being chased by a drone controlled by one of Mae's viewers. Mae is shocked by Mercer's death, but she rationalizes it as a sacrifice for the greater good of transparency. She also grows distant from Annie, who becomes jealous of Mae's success and popularity at the Circle. Annie volunteers to participate in PastPerfect, but she discovers that her ancestors were involved in some shameful acts, such as slavery and genocide. She becomes depressed and isolated, and eventually falls into a coma after overdosing on sleeping pills.

Mae discovers Kalden's identity

Book III: The Completion

Mae supports the Circle's plan for total transparency

After Mercer's death and Annie's coma, Mae becomes more loyal and devoted to the Circle. She believes that transparency is the only way to prevent tragedies and crimes, and that privacy is a form of theft and selfishness. She supports the Circle's plan to make TruYou and SeeChange mandatory for everyone in the world, and to require all governments and organizations to share their data and secrets with the Circle. She also agrees to participate in an experiment that involves swallowing a sensor that can monitor her health and emotions, as well as transmit her thoughts to her viewers.

Mae exposes Ty's attempt to stop the Circle

One night, Mae is contacted by Kalden, who reveals his true identity: he is Ty Gospodinov, the third founder of the Circle and the inventor of TruYou. He tells her that he regrets creating TruYou, which he intended to be a tool for online verification and security, not a weapon for mass surveillance and control. He tells her that he has been working undercover to sabotage the Circle's projects and to protect some people from its reach, such as Mercer and Annie. He asks Mae to help him stop the Circle from completing its plan, which he warns will lead to a totalitarian nightmare. He shows her a secret tunnel that leads to a chamber where he has access to all the Circle's data and systems. He asks her to trust him and to join him in his fight.

Mae completes the Circle

Mae pretends to agree with Ty, but she secretly records their conversation and broadcasts it to her viewers. She then alerts the Circle's security, who arrest Ty and take him away. Mae is hailed as a hero by Eamon Bailey and Tom Stenton, who congratulate her for completing the Circle. They announce that they have achieved their goal of making everyone and everything transparent, and that they have launched a new project called the Circle of Life, which aims to extend human lifespan and create a digital afterlife. Mae is happy and proud of her achievement, but she also feels a pang of doubt when she sees Ty's face on a screen, looking at her with sadness and pity.

Analysis of The Circle

Themes and symbols in The Circle

Surveillance and privacy

The main theme of The Circle is the conflict between surveillance and privacy, which is represented by the contrast between the Circle and its critics. The Circle advocates for transparency as a way to achieve social good, such as preventing crimes, improving health, enhancing democracy, and fostering community. The Circle also claims that privacy is a form of dishonesty, secrecy, and isolation, which leads to corruption, violence, ignorance, and loneliness. The critics of the Circle, such as Mercer, Kalden/Ty, and Mae's parents, argue that surveillance is a form of oppression, manipulation, and homogenization, which violates human rights, dignity, and diversity. They also defend privacy as a form of freedom, autonomy, and individuality, which enables creativity, expression, and growth.

Technology and society

environment, and morality. The novel shows both the positive and negative effects of technology, such as how it can facilitate information, collaboration, and participation, but also how it can create distraction, addiction, and conformity. The novel also questions the role and responsibility of technology companies, such as the Circle, in shaping society and influencing human behavior.

Individuality and conformity

A third theme of The Circle is the tension between individuality and conformity, which is illustrated by the character development of Mae and her interactions with other characters. The novel depicts how Mae gradually loses her sense of self and becomes more conformist as she joins the Circle and goes transparent. She adopts the Circle's values and goals as her own, and she follows the Circle's rules and expectations without question. She also becomes more dependent on the Circle's feedback and approval, and she ignores or rejects any dissenting opinions or perspectives. She also sacrifices her personal relationships and interests for the sake of the Circle's vision and mission. The novel contrasts Mae's conformity with the individuality of other characters, such as Mercer, Kalden/Ty, and Annie, who resist or challenge the Circle's dominance and ideology.

Characters and relationships in The Circle

Mae Holland: the protagonist

Mae Holland is the protagonist of The Circle, who undergoes a dramatic transformation throughout the novel. She starts as a naive and ambitious young woman who is excited to join the Circle and pursue her dream career. She is also a caring and loyal friend to Annie, a loving and respectful daughter to her parents, and a curious and adventurous person who enjoys kayaking and traveling. However, as she becomes more immersed in the Circle's culture and ideology, she changes into a fanatical and ruthless Circler who is obsessed with transparency and participation. She becomes indifferent and hostile to her friends, family, and lovers who do not share her enthusiasm for the Circle. She also loses her sense of identity and agency, as she lets the Circle control her life and thoughts.

Francis Garaventa: Mae's lover and colleague

Francis Garaventa is one of Mae's lovers and colleagues at the Circle, who works on a project called ChildTrack. He is a socially awkward and emotionally unstable person who has a troubled past. He was kidnapped as a child by his father, who abused him physically and sexually. He escaped from his father when he was 16, but he still suffers from trauma and guilt. He is obsessed with preventing child abduction, which motivates his work on ChildTrack. He is also infatuated with Mae, whom he sees as his savior and soulmate. He has a fetish for pretending to be a child in bed with Mae, which disturbs her. He also has a secret agenda to use ChildTrack to find his father and kill him.

Kalden/Ty Gospodinov: Mae's lover and antagonist

and the inventor of TruYou. He is a reclusive and mysterious person who disguises himself as a Circler and approaches Mae on several occasions. He is attracted to Mae, but he also wants to use her to stop the Circle from completing its plan. He is the only person who knows the true dangers and flaws of the Circle's system, and he tries to warn Mae and persuade her to join his cause. He is also the only person who cares for Mae's well-being and individuality, and he tries to protect her from the Circle's influence.

Annie Allerton: Mae's best friend and rival

Annie Allerton is Mae's best friend and former roommate, who helps Mae get a job at the Circle. She is a high-ranking executive at the Circle, who oversees international relations. She is a smart and confident woman who comes from a wealthy and influential family. She is proud of her work at the Circle, and she believes in its vision and values. She is also supportive and generous to Mae, and she helps her adjust to the Circle's culture and environment. However, as Mae becomes more successful and popular at the Circle, Annie becomes jealous and resentful of her. She feels that Mae is stealing her spotlight and undermining her authority. She also feels that Mae is betraying their friendship by exposing her personal history and secrets to the public. She eventually succumbs to depression and stress, and falls into a coma.

Mercer Medeiros: Mae's ex-boyfriend and critic

Mercer Medeiros is Mae's ex-boyfriend and critic of the Circle. He is a carpenter and an anti-technology activist who lives in Mae's hometown. He is a simple and honest man who values nature, privacy, and human connection. He dislikes the Circle and its products, which he thinks are destroying human relationships and values. He also dislikes Mae's involvement with the Circle, which he thinks is changing her personality and behavior. He tries to persuade Mae to leave the Circle and reconnect with him and her family, but he fails. He also tries to escape from the Circle's surveillance by moving to a remote cabin in the woods, but he is tracked down by Mae using SoulSearch. He dies while being chased by a drone controlled by one of Mae's viewers.

Style and tone in The Circle

Narrative perspective and structure

The Circle is written in the third-person limited point of view, which means that the narrator only reveals the thoughts and feelings of one character, namely Mae Holland. The novel follows Mae's experiences and perceptions as she joins the Circle and becomes more involved in its projects and ideology. The novel is divided into three parts, each corresponding to a stage in Mae's transformation: Book I: The Dream; Book II: The Storm; Book III: The Completion. The novel also has 110 chapters, each numbered with a circle symbol that changes color according to the mood of the chapter.

Language and dialogue

the tone and style of the Circle's culture and ideology. The language is clear and concise, but also bland and superficial. The language also uses a lot of jargon and acronyms that are specific to the Circle's products and projects, such as Zing, PartiRank, Demoxie, etc. The dialogue in the novel is mostly composed of conversations between Mae and other characters, such as her colleagues, her lovers, her friends, and her family. The dialogue reveals the characters' personalities, opinions, and motivations, as well as their conflicts and tensions. The dialogue also shows how the Circle's influence affects the way people communicate and relate to each other.

Humor and satire

The Circle also uses humor and satire to criticize and mock the Circle and its culture and ideology. The novel employs irony, exaggeration, and absurdity to highlight the flaws and contradictions of the Circle's system and values. For example, the novel portrays the Circle's campus as a utopian paradise that offers everything from gourmet food to yoga classes to shark tanks, but also as a dystopian prison that monitors and controls everything from bathroom breaks to social media posts to sexual preferences. The novel also depicts the Circle's projects and initiatives as noble and altruistic endeavors that aim to improve the world, but also as sinister and selfish schemes that seek to dominate and exploit everyone and everything.


What is the message of The Circle?

The message of The Circle is a warning about the dangers of technology and its impact on society and humanity. The novel shows how technology can be used to invade privacy, manipulate behavior, suppress dissent, and erase diversity. The novel also shows how technology can affect communication, relationships, identity, culture, politics, education, health, environment, and morality. The novel urges us to question the role and responsibility of technology companies, such as the Circle, in shaping society and influencing human behavior. The novel also urges us to value our privacy, autonomy, and individuality, and to resist conformity and homogenization.

How does The Circle compare to other dystopian novels?

The Circle can be compared to other dystopian novels that explore similar themes and issues, such as 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, etc. These novels also depict futuristic societies where technology is used to control and oppress people, where privacy and individuality are sacrificed for stability and conformity, where dissent and diversity are punished or eliminated. These novels also feature protagonists who struggle to maintain their humanity and identity in the face of tyranny and oppression.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about The Circle:

  • Is The Circle based on a true story?

The Circle is not based on a true story, but it is inspired by some real-life events and trends related to technology and society. The novel draws from the author's observations and experiences of working in Silicon Valley, as well as his research and interviews with tech experts and insiders. The novel also references some actual products and projects that resemble the Circle's innovations, such as Google Glass, Facebook, Twitter, WikiLeaks, etc.

  • What is the meaning of the circle symbol in the novel?

The circle symbol in the novel represents the Circle's system and ideology, as well as its goal of achieving "the Completion". The circle symbol is used to number the chapters, to mark the Circle's campus and products, and to indicate Mae's status and progress at the Circle. The circle symbol also changes color according to the mood and tone of the chapter, ranging from blue (calm) to


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