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  • Writer's pictureElise

Book Club Discussion Questions: The Circle by Dave Eggers

Updated: Mar 21, 2022

For those of you that haven't or couldn't attend book club lately, we'll be publishing the previous months' discussion questions here. I hope eventually to post discussion questions for all of the books we've covered since I took over a couple of years ago and beyond, all the way to the beginning over a decade and a half ago. It will take a while. Until then, we will be posting discussion questions on a weekly basis. Here are the questions from a 2018 title, The Circle. We hope these questions spark discussions of your own.

 

The Circle

by Dave Eggers


Summary:

When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

 

Discussion Questions

  1. What messages (if any) did it seem like Eggers was trying to get across? How successful was he? [too subtle, just right, heavy handed, etc.]

  2. What aspects of Mae’s life at the Circle seemed creepy or rubbed you the wrong way? What aspects of Mae’s life at the Circle did you really like?

  3. How does Mae’s behavior during her first days at work foreshadow what happens to her over the course of the novel? In what ways is she an “ideal” employee of the Circle and its aims?

  4. What are people gaining by committing themselves to participating in all of the services the Circle has to offer? What are people losing? Did it seem like a fair tradeoff?

  5. Time and again it was mentioned that participation in Circle events are optional. Did it really seem that way?

  6. For a company that thrives on order and efficiency, the Circle also seems to endorse—require, even—loose and extravagant socializing. What do these two seemingly opposite values say about what working for them entails? How does Mae’s value set evolve to accommodate these expectations?

  7. Discuss the concept of living in the moment. At several points it was indicated that the Circle’s view of living “in the moment” involved recording everything. At one point, Mae’s parents indicate that they were upset that she wasn’t living in the moment but was instead recording everything. Do you see one point of view as more relevant than another?

  8. How many of you currently participate in social media? What is so attractive about social media? What are its drawbacks? Do you see the threads of these issues in the book?

  9. What are your thoughts on the SeeChange project mentioned in the book? One of the first mentions was that of one of the company heads placing hidden cameras in his mother’s place for “peace of mind.” What are your thoughts pro and con on the matter?

  10. The wings of the Circle are named after different regions of the world and time periods, such as Old West, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Machine Age, the Industrial Revolution. What do these names say about the company’s vision of historical innovation versus its future-looking work? Is there an inherent hierarchy in these names, despite their apparent equality?

  11. We see Mae involved with three very different men throughout the novel: Mercer, Francis and Kalden. While they are on the surface wildly different, what might you say are traits they share that reveal what Mae is looking for in a relationship – and how do they satisfy these needs in their own ways? Does Mae ever seem truly happy?

  12. When Francis videos him and Mae being intimate, he says that that moment was his too and uses that part-ownership as permission to have recorded the moment. What about Mae’s right to privacy? In the context of the direction the Circle is going, how does this relate? Do you agree with the outcome?

  13. Why is Mae so offended that Francis asks for a score on his sexual performance? What do you think it says about our society today? In what ways are we routinely asked to rate things we wouldn’t already do so?

  14. Repeatedly we are told that Mae feels a tear inside of her. Where does it come from? Does she try to fix it? What does she decide it is from? What do you think it is from? Do you agree that the feeling of not knowing causes more harm than good?

  15. It is both a curse and a blessing that Mae is able to provide her parents with health care: while her father is able to receive the MS treatment he desperately needs, Mae seems to benefit even more from her ability to share his story online through support groups and ultimately drives those groups away. Did you ever feel that her actions became more selfish than selfless, and if so, when?

  16. Does the Circle seem concerned with promoting and preserving traditional family life? In what ways does it threaten to replace biological families with a wider human family, including via transparency?

  17. During the demonstration of SoulSearch, we see Stenton seem to realize that showing a crowd that is riled up and shouting to “Lynch” the candidate might make for bad press. Later, when the townsfolk are looking for Mercer, we see, or rather don’t see, any concern for what Mercer might be feeling at being chased by these random people. Compare these two incidents.

  18. What is the impact of having Mercer’s suicide seen by Mae through cameras—that is, indirectly? Do you think she genuinely believed she was trying to be his friend by launching the drones after him?

  19. Is Annie in any sense a martyr of the Circle’s mission? Did you ever feel as if you understood the motives behind her intense devotion to her job?

  20. Among the Three Wise Men—Ty, Bailey, and Stenton—who has a vision of what the Circle can—and should—do that seems most viable? In the end, is this trifecta of power able to prevent tyranny? What might the novel’s conclusion say about man’s reaction to power—even when humanity is apparently subsumed under technology?

  21. How has Mae changed from the beginning of the book to the end? How hasn’t she changed?

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