The Transparent Shark

“The lobster had been consumed, and Mae saw something gruesome and wonderful: the lobster was being processed, inside the shark, in front of her, with lighting speed and incredible clarity. Mae saw the lobster broken into dozens, the hundreds of pieces, in the shark’s mouth, then saw those pieces make their way through the shark’s gullet, its stomach, its intestines. In minutes the lobster had been reduced to a grainy, particulate substance. The waste left the shark and fell like snow to the aquarium floor” (p. 318).

In The Circle, Dave Eggers mobilizes metaphors and figurative language throughout the novel to exemplify his narrative. The passage explains the story of a shark consuming a lobster. Simple, right? but there is much more too it. Eggers draws unique, although somewhat obvious, parallels between the shark and the Circle. Through this metaphor, the readers understand Eggers astute choices of how to represent the Circle. The passage begins with the lobster being “consumed.” The consumption then lead to processing that was transparent and quick. The lobster then broke into “hundreds of pieces” that eventually transformed into waste, nothingness. This cycle, or process, was carefully crafted by Eggers in order to show the cycle and process of the Circle.

So let’s assume for a minute that Eggers is in fact using a metaphor in this passage.

The lobster would be humanity, human interaction, and humanistic features. It’s the way we connect in real life and how we experience real moments.

The shark would be the Circle. This parallel is more simple. For starters, the physical shark is transparent, which is a huge aspect of the Circle, and Mae’s life.

So if the shark is the Circle and the lobster is human resource, it’s interesting to look at how Eggers phrases the passage. “Consumed,” for example, could have very easily been “had been eaten,” among other phrases. Consumption generally is considered a using of a resource. In this way, Eggers hints that the Circle is consuming, or extinguishing, human resource and humanity. It’s consuming it, like the shark, it’s being processed, while being watched from an audience, until it breaks down and becomes waste and ash.

If this passage does make metaphorical assumptions that I’m arguing for, then Eggers clearly is using this crafting device to make readers aware of the impending “doomsday” of the Circle, perhaps occurring when the Circle is “complete.” This would even further the metaphor, because the Circle completion represents a process, like that of an animal processing food. Interestingly enough, “process” is another word that Eggers carefully chose when describing the shark scenario.   In Alexander Galloway’s Protocol, Galloway discusses Marx’s various concepts of processes, stating,

“A third category…within Marx’s vitalist discourse is that of natural processes…Yet more fundamental to the text is the use of “congeal.” Congealing is an incredibly powerful process in Marx since it involves both a change in category and a change in form. What appears on the one hand as an activity [category] in humans [form] congeals through the labor process into a measure of value [category] in an object [form]. He writes that “phantom-like,” the “residue of the products of labor” congeals into “crystals” of a distinct “social substance.” Other naturalistic process-based imagery includes Marx’s poetic allusion to the death cycle “go[ing] the way of all flesh,” and the idea of consumption or extinguishment, as in the example of the labor process—”the process is extinguished in the product,” and “labor uses up its material elements, its objects and its instruments. It consumes them, and is therefore a process of consumption” (p. 98).

Galloway’s interpretation applies nicely to Eggers representation of the Circle. Galloway explains how a process causes something to be used up and how, more specifically, congealing causes a change in form. Changing something natural into something else. Eggers uses this same idea of process with the cycle of the Circle: the Circle is taking human resources, like Mae, and making them burning out, transforming original human thoughts and interactions into a tool that keeps the cogs of the Circle spinning.

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5 Responses to The Transparent Shark

  1. tanuvein says:

    I originally thought the shark eating scene was a little heavy handed, but the way you framed it within the Marxist consumption of goods actually makes it a far more interesting metaphor to me. Though I do agree that regardless of whether Eggers intended that message here, it perfectly encompasses the shift to an apocalyptic view in the book.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mjp99 says:

    You do a good job of defending your claim and I would have to agree that Stenton’s deep sea creatures are certainly metaphors, although I think personally (and this is painfully clearer later) they are metaphors for each of the three creators of the circle – this is alluded to even during the same scene you draw from in how the Octopus seems to be circling and striving to know all of its tank, similar to the way Bailey legitimately feels transparency and knowledge will do only good for humanity, and his goal is to meet everyone, to know them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jil106 says:

    Actually I don’t realized that there is a metaphor here. Now I agree with your argument.And also this metaphor is very appropriate.Like what you said here, The Circle was consuming the humanity. In comparison to the shark, creatures in the aquarium are so tiny. People works in the circle like Mae submit to the superpower of Circle. Everyone lost themselves after enter the Circle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theterribles says:

      I’m in the same boat – this post definitely changed my view of the scene. I felt it was poignant that they fed the shark a sea turtle of all things – the nautical equivalent of feeding a puppy to a lion – causing a visceral reaction with Mae’s viewers. The shark was, in a way, consuming the world’s innocence. And furthermore, it crushed the normally well-defended turtle, seemingly effortlessly dissolving it’s defenses.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. plorei says:

    I didn’t realize how much weight the scene held until now. The transparency is a pretty obvious metaphor, its interesting to think about the shark consuming resources, especially in the way it does so, consuming everything and reducing it to ash. The shark is eating in the same way the circle is gathering information – consuming just to consume, seemingly without purpose.

    Liked by 1 person

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