The Circle Summary

Dave Eggers

The Circle

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

The Circle Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of The Circle by Dave Eggers.

The Circle is a 2013 novel by Dave Eggers. It is a dystopian work of fiction surrounding a young woman, Mae Holland, and her career with an enormous tech company called the Circle.

The novel opens with Mae beginning her first day at the Circle. She secured the job through Annie, a close friend, who in a short time has achieved great success in the company and is now part of the powerful “Gang of 40.” Annie gives her a tour before Mae begins her job in Customer Experience. She gives a short history of the company, which was founded by three “Wise Men:” Ty Gospodinov, Eamon Bailey, and Tom Stenton. The company was created by Ty as a means of combining one’s online presences (social media, banking, personal transactions and more) into one “TruYou.” It was then expanded and marketed by the other two founders to become the mega company Mae is working for today.

Mae quickly begins to excel. After her first week she visits her parents at home, where she learns of their struggles navigating health insurance issues in light of her father’s recent MS diagnosis. She goes out kayaking to escape these stresses, and revels in a moment of connection with nature.

As she continues working at the Circle, the importance of integrating into the company socially as well as professionally becomes clear. Mae is in fact reprimanded for not attending a colleague’s “Portugal Brunch,” and makes an effort to improve her PartiRank (participation rank) within the company. Eamon Bailey introduces a new technology named SeeChange, comprising of a small camera mounted on the body that allows the wearer to broadcast everything in real time. In short order, government officials are using the device in an attempt to encourage transparency. She begins a romantic relationship with Francis, who she met her first day, which continues throughout the novel.

She is suddenly called home as her father has suffered a seizure, but upon getting there, finds that her ex-boyfriend Mercer has stepped in to help her family, making her superfluous. Once again she turns to kayaking to let off steam.

As her next workweek continues, she learns about her impressive health care plan and, with Annie’s help, is able to get her parents on it. That night she runs into a mysterious man named Kalden for the second time, whose biographical information is uncharacteristically unavailable through the Circle’s database. Mae’s relationship with Kalden turns romantic, but she is only able to see him in chance encounters, and is still unable to pinpoint his identity.

As more officials start utilizing SeeChange, the Circle begins to put cameras throughout the company, including in Mae’s pod. She once again visits her parent’s house, only to be ambushed with her ex-boyfriend, Mercer, whose picture and information she posts on her network, despite his protests. Upset by their interaction, she leaves to go kayaking, taking a kayak from the closed rental shop. Police are awaiting her return. She’s cleared of the charges, but the Circle is disturbed by her criminal activity, especially since it was a SeeChange camera on the beach that caught her misconduct. She has a meeting with Eamon Bailey, after which she reveals to the company that she will be going “transparent,” i.e., will have her every move documented and broadcast by SeeChange.

Mae’s job is now primarily to show viewers around the Circle. She has 2.1 million followers and is counted among the top 10 in PartiRank. Kalden is able to discreetly contact her by briefly muting her feed, and tells her that the company’s developments will be bad for humanity, but she doesn’t listen. She runs into Annie, who introduces a new product called PastPerfect, which will track and research family data. Mae is informed that her parents have covered the SeeChange cameras that were installed as part of their health care plan, and vows to fix things with a visit. Dinner goes well enough, though her parents act a bit strangely, they do cooperate with adjusting the cameras. They hand her a note from Mercer telling her he will not see her again, and that the surveillance has gone too far.

At her next meeting, Mae suggests requiring all voter-aged citizens to have a Circle profile. Kalden calls her later that day to admonish her, stating that this idea will lead to the downfall he alluded to earlier. She runs into Annie, who says that she will be the guinea pig for the PastPerfect program. As the program commences, it begins to unearth unfavorable things in her family’s past, and Mae receives a letter from Mercer advising Annie to discontinue PastPerfect, and stating that he is escaping the reach of the Circle.

Mae then presents a new technology called SoulSearch that uses social networking to more quickly locate criminals. Mae uses the new technology in the meeting to find Mercer, who, determined to escape the new technology, drives himself off a bridge. A week later, Mae comes to believe that it was only by being not transparent enough that Mercer was killed. In a meeting with Bailey, she finally meets the third wise man, Ty, who, as it turns out, is actually Kalden. He takes her aside once more to warn her about the Circle’s omnipresence, predicting more deaths. While she pretends to go along with him, she ends up betraying him to the other Wise Men. The book ends with her at Annie’s bedside; Annie is in a coma from emotional distress. Mae is annoyed that Annie’s private thoughts aren’t available.

The Circle received mixed critical attention, with some bemoaning the transparency of the allegory and the lack of depth in the main character, while others lauded its prescience. Though the themes of transparency, privacy, virtual voyeurism and corporate personhood are timely concerns, some critics felt the novel handled the issues with less depth than hoped, with the New York Times saying that it “has the flavor of a comic book: light, entertaining, undemanding.”