Two Interpretations of a Sex Scene

“What, were you filming us?” she joked.

“Maybe,” he said, his tone making clear that he had.

“Wait. Seriously?”

Mae reached for the phone.

“Don’t,” he said. “It’s mine.” He shoved it into his pocket.

“It’s yours? What we just did is yours?”

“It’s just as much mine as yours. And I was the one having you know, a climax. And why do you care? You weren’t naked or anything.”

“Francis. I can’t believe this. Delete that. Now.”

(Eggers, 226)


This exchange of dialogue is between Mae and Francis and occurs after their “sex scene” in on of the Circle’s dorm room. I am debating between two interpretations for this passage. The first interpretation I want to argue is that the Circle mirrors the lack of feminism we experience in our society today.


The “C” word nowadays is Consent and it has infected most college campuses in America. Before you have sex, you must get consent from your partner. You go out, you get drunk, and you find a suitable partner for sex. Before you do anything with that partner, anything at all, she must agree to the basic terms that, yes, she is willing to have sexual relations with you. If she doesn’t explicitly agree and you have sexual relations with her anyways, you’ve committed date rape and that’s bad news for both you and her. If you have sex with her without consent, you have belittled her and violated her. You have committed a crime against her person. On your end, she may file charges against you and you may end up in court. You may end up in prison. You could end up with the label “rapist.” To avoid all of this, get consent. This idea has been drilled into our heads. Get consent.


In Mae and Francis’s case, there was consent. Both were willing to engage in sexual behavior and, to some extent, they did. That is fine. As Mae gets up to leave, though, she learns that Francis had filmed them. Even though Mae was not naked, she had not given her consent to be filmed. This is not okay. It is made more troubling when Francis claims that the video is “just as much mine as yours.” On paper, this may be true. In a different situation, one in which Mae had consented to be filmed, Mae and Francis would share ownership of the video. Mae, however, did not consent to be filmed. Therefore, the video should belong to no one because it should not have been filmed in the first place. That it was filmed at all, though, insults Mae and violates her person. Francis was wrong to film Mae without her permission. If he had respected her in any way, he would not have filmed her. Situations like these are common today and illustrate the lack of respect for women. Perhaps Mae is a modern woman.


This interpretation, however, argues in favor of Mae; Francis was wrong and Mae was the victim. The second interpretation I want to make avoids blame and feminism and instead relates to panopticism. In this, I would like to argue is that the Circle mirrors the contradicting attitudes we have today towards being monitored.


By the time of the “sex scene,” Mae has essentially dedicated her entire life to the Circle. She works through the night, allows herself to be monitored constantly by all of her superiors, and has given up control of her health to the Circle’s medical plan. She supplies a constant stream of her personal data to the Circle’s servers and programs. She even notes that doing this makes her feel at ease and that she no longer has to worry about her life. Mae likes submitting to the Circle; she doesn’t mind that she is always being watched or monitored. Why then, does she object to Francis’s filming of their sexual encounter? She is willing to give up every other aspect of her life, why does this one, short video make her so mad? Is sex the only thing that cannot be filmed and monitored? Mae insists that the video be deleted. Is she only okay with being monitored when she wants to be monitored? Perhaps this is Mae’s first realization of the panopticism of the Circle; she doesn’t have full control of who monitors her and when. In a sense, this is similar to our reality. Through social media and other online forums, we allow ourselves to be monitored, at least to some extent. Yet if an ex-lover sends the nude pictures you took to someone or posts them online, you are outraged. That is an invasion of your privacy, you say, but you let others invade your privacy every time you tweet or post on Facebook. There is a contradiction here and in Mae’s case, it seems. Yes, you say, come look at my life, but no, don’t look at all of it. Is it a matter of content? Even if you allow yourself to be seen and monitored by others, is some content inherently off limits? Or is it a matter of consequences? Even though Mae has allowed herself to be monitored by the Circle, is she just now realizing the full consequences of that decision? Perhaps neither us nor Mae realize all of the implications of inviting others to look at our lives.


In both of these interpretations, the Circle is seemingly not far removed from our lives today.

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2 Responses to Two Interpretations of a Sex Scene

  1. devilzadv0k8 says:

    “Even if you allow yourself to be seen and monitored by others, is some content inherently off limits? Or is it a matter of consequences?”

    There is a definite line between what we are willing to share and what we aren’t; what is protected by the vague right of privacy and what is not. Most people aren’t sure exactly where to draw the line, but we pretty much all agree that having nonconsensual sex tapes taken of us or (gasp!) our parents violates this right. I believe Eggers uses these two incidents of obvious violations of privacy to get us thinking about which aspects of our lives we are willing to give up (as you put it). It’s disgustingly hyperbolic. Of course he picks sex: something taboo, personal and in some cases considered shameful to grab our attention and make us think about what we’re willing and not willing to share.

    Even more seemingly hyperbolic and nightmarish isthe suicide of Tyler Clementi after his roommate filmed him having sex without his knowing . You may recall this was all over national news four years ago. People were shocked by what had happened and there was considerable debate over whether what happened to Clementi was vicious homophobic bullying or just a prank gone wrong. I personally don’t believe Tyler’s roommate realized the repercussions of what he was doing. We’re not used to thinking about this sort of thing. The right to privacy still hasn’t been defined. We have a much better sense of what it means to have rights to free speech, religious freedom, etc.. (although even these aren’t always crystal clear). That’s probably because the technologies that are allowing for the encroachment of our rights to privacy are so new that we haven’t really had much time to know what to make of them. Eggers’ goal here is to get us thinking about what privacy means to us.


  2. cjc112 says:

    It’s also interesting to compare her relationship with both Francis and Kalden. If you think about it, Kalden is just as creepy as Francis. He lurks about the building at strange times, even though we’re pretty sure he doesn’t work at the Circle. Mae doesn’t know his last name or anything else about him. I think this is why Mae is so intrigued by him, he is one of the only people in her life that exists outside the Circle. Francis is so open with his life, everything he does is uploaded to the cloud. I feel like Mae is so drawn to Kalden because she wants to “complete the Circle” with him. Since he is so mysterious, Mae wants to be the one that brings him into this vast world of information and shared experience.


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