Embracing the Panopticon

“The tear was opening up inside her, a blackness overtaking her. She closed her eyes and heard underwater screams. Mae cursed the not-knowing, and knew she needed someone who could be known. Who could be located.”

 Eggers, Dave. The Circle. New York: Vintage, 2013. 197. Print.

In the world of Eggers’ The Circle, knowledge and personal history is seen as a commodity, and – at times – a right. In the novel, Eggers chooses to cast the idea of widespread surveillance and the use of social media to monitor and control in a positive light. SeeChange is described as a way to catch dictators and criminals and bring them to justice. Circlers are always monitored and are required to participate in social media at a feverous pace; yet, they seem to embrace the idea. The idea of deleting information or never having known it to begin with is outlandish and angering at the Circle. Though the dialogue and descriptions in the text are primarily positive towards these practices, passages like these uncover the truth of the novel – Eggers is presenting a dystopian level of scrutiny in everyday life that, most frighteningly, is embraced by those it is examining.

This passage signals a dark moment for Mae. She’s starting to exhibit some of the darker qualities that the Circle has been imposing on her. In this scene, a lack of information about Kalden (which in previous generations was simply a reality of starting a new relationship that was expected and even embraced) is equated to sensory deprivation and emptiness. This is a powerful metaphor that is repeated several times in the text. A gap in Mae’s knowledge and the collective knowledge of social media available at the Circle leaves Mae shaken. She instead craves the predictability she has come to expect of her fellow Circlers (namely, Francis). Eggers’ mentions the necessity of being able to locate, and his choice to use this in relation to Francis is astute – he embodies the idea, with the child tracker he has been working on. He is known, locatable, and open, which in this moment seems safe to Mae.

Eggers’ chooses to spend a considerable amount of time narrating Mae’s thoughts. Through this narration, we get to witness her naive acceptance of practices in the Circle, induced moments of helplessness like this, and later on moments where she seems to begin to question what she has been taught during her time there. Her blind acceptance of Circle teachings is (rightfully) frightening to readers at times. Through her eyes, it’s easy to see that eventually things like SeeChange could easily come to fruition – there are plenty like her that would be won over immediately by the whole notion that universal surveillance is both desirable and necessary. The arguments Bailey presents force consumers into a corner – to oppose SeeChange is to support dictatorship, crime, and lack of accountability. His arguments seem irrefutable, in Eggers’ work. The blatant one-sided arguments of these sections of the novel serves to reinforce the totalitarian, extremist agenda of the Circle itself.

This passage reveals the extreme viewpoint Mae has slowly adopted through the use of powerful imagery and metaphor. Lack of knowledge is a pain almost physical, a rip in the very fabric of her psyche. Mae lives in a world where any sense of mystery (a quality previously revered at times) is enough to send her into a spiral of mental anguish. This is the frightening reality of the Circle. Eggers’ portrays it here in an extreme way; privacy is rejected, All That Happens Must Be Known.

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One Response to Embracing the Panopticon

  1. Steph Roman says:

    Nice post. I particularly love how you say that Mae’s tear is like “sensory deprivation.” Damn, I wish I’d written that.


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