Is self-presentation always good?

Mae tried to explain what she meant to say, how she though, or some department of her brain though, that she would turn the phrase around a bit.. But it didn’t matter. He was laughing now, and he knew she had a sense of humor and she knew he did, too, and somehow that made her feel safe, made her trust that he would never bring it up again, that this terrible thing she said would remain between them, that they both understood mistakes are made by all and that they should, if everyone is acknowledging our common humanity, our common frailty and propensity for sounding and looking ridiculous a thousand times a day, that these mistakes should be allowed to be forgotten. (35)

Are there any other moments in life that make me feel more human? One on one with a cute girl trying so hard to present myself as someone who they’ll like (or at the very least want to have sex with). And then it happens, just as it did to Mae, I say something absolutely nonsensical and stupid like “I fuck you not.” And for a moment everything in the conversation stops and my stomach sinks and I feel so embarrassed. Moments later, it has completely vanished from both of our minds.

Eggers, too, seems to have been there. And his form here: the paragraph is mostly one sentence. It’s a string of dependent clauses which mimic racing thoughts: the stupid thing, the nervousness, the resolution, the humanity. I think we have all felt this in some way or another.

What I think Eggers is implying (and foreshadowing) here is a direct contradiction to Bailey’s words on the screen: “ALL THAT HAPPENS MUST BE KNOWN” (68). These moments shared between humans, which involve low levels of self-presentation: moments with parents or spouses or after you just chugged some wine with a stranger, do not need to be known. Because these are moments when you feel like you don’t have to self-present at all, when you can be as close to your true self (the self inside your head) as you can get.

The main difference between my true self and my online presentation of myself is that when you experience me in real life, I don’t have all the time in the world to respond with eloquence or some great insight. You get the visceral and immediate version of me. Maybe it’s only me who sees a divergence between who I am on facebook or while texting, and me in person, but I think Eggers has a sense of what I’m saying.

Is the post-transparent Mae better than the Mae who showed up to the Circle the first day? On the outside, she is being absolutely perfect, but none of the conversations she has, even with her family or her best friend, are not even close to the conversations she would have had before. Everything is “semi-preformed” and there is so much tension in the conversations. And when she isn’t on camera, or when Eggers is telling us Mae’s thoughts, she is neurotic. At some point, she resents almost everyone she encounters: her parents, Annie, Francis, Kalden, and Mercer. I think it is that she is constantly so nervous about her viewers reactions that makes her, when she has downtime to think, feel so torn. The huge difference between Mae’s thoughts and what Mae says and does is taking a major toll on her. This is supposed to make her into her best self, but on the inside, it is making her into her most resentful and mean self.

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6 Responses to Is self-presentation always good?

  1. jmc211 says:

    I agree, and do not think Mae’s transparent self is better. The Circle looks to know everyone about everyone, but putting them under constant surveillance changes people. Yes, we can now see the majority of Mae’s day, but she acts differently than before she went transparent. We only see the show that she constantly has to put on for the audience. Making mistakes a big part of being human, and being afraid to ever make them is restricting.

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  2. plorei says:

    Spot on, even the most savvy of us screw up from time to time, especially in conversation when we’re nervous. The Circle’s mission to “make everything known” seems like it would result less in people acting as their true self and more as a projection of who they want to be, much like how a lot of us do on Facebook or in text.

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  3. exelsisxax says:

    It’s pretty clear that Mae doesn’t become a better person during her time at the circle. She goes from a well-adjusted adult that doesn’t like her old job to an antisocial nervous wreck with the emotional development of a 5 year old. It takes only a few pages for her to leap from “some people don’t think i’m awesome” to “some people want to murder me”.

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  4. I find this book does an excellent job of showing what dependence on strangers looks like. It can be warning to people not be in constant need of other people’s validation. When we become that desperate for others to like us I feel like we fail to actually like ourselves. We assume that if we aren’t praised then we are hated. It seems like a very self centered way of looking at life.

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  5. wuchimane says:

    I completely forgot about this moment of the book until seeing this post. Thinking back, it’s chilling to think of how easily the nervous, innocent, and eager-to-please Mae was changed into an entirely different person by The Circle. Even though the people in the post-transparency world seem to be happier on the outside by putting on a pleasant face for the cameras, behind the self-image they’re empty and deeply alone despite the thousands of daily reminders telling them this life is what they want. It’s apparent in moments like when Annie breaks down in the bathroom to Mae about discovering her family past. How many other people in The Circle carry similar feelings of dread and worry about their lives but are unable to express them in a healthy way because of the demanding standards of representation their society expects? No one can ever know.

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  6. Steph Roman says:

    What’s funny is that probably all readers understand this feeling. We all fuck up sometimes. But on rereading this line, what’s most poignant to me is its ironic foreshadowing. Does the latter half of the novel change your perspective on this first meeting with Francis? Something to consider.

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