The Spy Who Came in From the Cold | Study Guide

John le Carré

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The Spy Who Came in From the Cold | Chapter 10 : The Third Day | Summary



At Le Mirage, Leamas waits to have his interview with Peters, who is late. To pass the time, Leamas takes a walk along the North Sea, where he sees a young woman throwing breadcrumbs to the seagulls. The woman reminds him of Liz. Leamas hopes to go home to England in a week or two, where he looks forward to quitting the Circus and living with Liz. After this job, he should have enough money to do so.

Back at Le Mirage, Peters tells Leamas that word has leaked out in England about Leamas's being wanted for an offense "under the Official Secrets Act." Apparently, the news has also spread throughout Western Europe. Leamas did not expect this development. He figures Control is behind it for reasons he doesn't know. Peters could be lying, but Leamas doubts it. Peters says that Leamas has two options. He could go on the run, but eventually the Circus would capture him. On the other hand, Leamas could let Peters and the communists take care of him. Leamas could go behind the Iron Curtain to Poland and Czechoslovakia, where he'd be safe, but he would have no guarantee of ever coming back. Leamas presents a third option: Peters could give Leamas a Swiss passport and some cash and let him take his chances. Peters says this isn't possible because he hasn't finished Leamas's interrogation. After the interrogation, Peters would be willing to suggest this option. Leamas agrees to go behind the Iron Curtain with Peters. As Leamas waits at an airport for a flight to Berlin, he checks a British newspaper and finds a story about his being a defector. Peters has not lied, and for the first time Leamas is frightened.


In Chapter 10, le Carré again contrasts love and political manipulation. The woman throwing breadcrumbs to the seagulls in a sense connects with Leamas's love for Liz and his desire to regain the "faith in normal life" that living in the deceptive world of espionage has curtailed. The action of throwing breadcrumbs is trivial, and therein lies its beauty. It has nothing to do with ideologies, politics, or beating the enemy. Instead, it's just something a person does to enjoy living, which is what Leamas wants to do with Liz. In addition, the gesture of casting breadcrumbs relates to Jewish tradition. On Rash Hashanah, Jews cast crumbs of bread on water to signify the casting away of their sins. So this ritual can be seen as a type of renewal. It is appropriate, therefore, that this woman by the ocean reminds Leamas of Liz, who is Jewish. Also, Leamas hopes to cast away his sins as a Cold War spy and renew his life with Liz.

Le Carré contrasts this scene with a new twist on political manipulation, probably instigated by Control. To his surprise, Leamas realizes news has spread about his being a defector. As a seasoned spy, Leamas knows he has limited knowledge about his assignments and is used for reasons he is not fully aware of, but in this case, Leamas didn't realize the extent of his lack of knowledge. For the first time, Leamas is confounded about how Control wants to use him. Because of this, his future plans with Liz are in jeopardy. The Iron Curtain was a political barrier but also a real imprisonment of sorts established by the Soviet Union during the Cold War to separate Eastern bloc communist nations from the Western bloc democratic nations. If Leamas goes behind the Iron Curtain, he may never be able to return to Liz.

The name of Leamas's boss, Control, is apt: he truly is in control of Leamas's fate. Any control Leamas felt he had over his own life has been ripped away. He is like a piece of driftwood cast on the sea completely at the mercy of the various currents. It is important to note that when Leamas realizes the extent of how Control is manipulating him, he can no longer see the woman throwing breadcrumbs by the sea. She has disappeared along with Leamas's dreams.

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