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 11 : Friends of Alec | Summary



Liz misses Leamas and finds his absence particularly difficult because she has nothing to remember him by—no photographs, no souvenirs. In fact, she continues to work at the psychic library because it reminds her of Leamas. Liz is perplexed about Leamas's beating up the grocer because he seemed to plan this assault ahead of time. Also, she knows Leamas has something he must do, although she has no idea what it is. Two men visit Liz at her apartment. One of them is a plump, shy, little man, who does most of the talking. He asks Liz if anyone knows that she was friendly with Leamas. She replies, "No." Liz admits she knows Leamas has a job to do, but she doesn't know what it is. The little man seems concerned about this. In prison, Leamas gave Liz's name as his contact person instead of his ex-wife. The little man wonders why he did this. Liz says she loves Leamas and perhaps he loves her, but Leamas never gave any indication that he'd come back to her. The little man says he wants to help Leamas. If Liz knows any reason why Leamas attacked the grocer to let them know. He leaves his card. Liz gets upset and asks where Leamas is and wonders if she can help him. She begins to cry. The little man says Leamas has gone abroad and assures Liz that he's Leamas's friend. The two men leave. Liz looks at the card, which has the name Mr. George Smiley.


Up to this point, Liz's love for Leamas is in constant conflict with the harsh, cold world of espionage in which he works. For example, Liz wants to have photographs of her absent lover so she can remember him. But because Leamas is a spy, he can leave no evidence of his personal life or trace of his existence. Liz of course has no idea that Leamas is a spy. She just knows some type of deception is happening, but she's not sure what it is.

Smiley's visit makes Liz even more confused. During their meeting, le Carré contrasts Liz's emotionality with Smiley's objective, clinical detachment. Smiley asks her a series of questions, as if he's a doctor trying to diagnose a patient. At one point, Liz becomes hysterical with anxiety about Leamas. In response, Smiley remains calm, polite, and remote. Obviously, some form of manipulation is occurring: Smiley claims he wants to help Liz but he most likely has another motive that has nothing to do with being a "friend of Alec." Smiley gives the appearance of being a controlled person whose every move is well-thought out and has a specific purpose behind it. For example, he often pauses after Liz's responses, as if trying to calculate the best way to proceed. In the end, he seems like a mysterious master manipulator, who is using Liz for his own purposes, although those purposes are not yet clear. Leamas had hoped to keep Liz separate from the context in which he works. Now she, like Leamas, has become a pawn in the game of Cold War espionage.

Also, le Carré uses fire and heat in a symbolic way to represent Liz's love for Leamas and her desire to keep this love alive in a harsh environment. In the beginning of the chapter, Liz remembers gazing into a gas fire while caressing Leamas on the bed. The warmth of the fire echoes the warmth of their relationship. Also, the fire casts the only light in the room, signifying her attempt to keep the emotional warmth of their relationship going in dark surroundings. In addition, this symbolic use of heat contrasts with the symbolic use of cold in previous chapters, which is associated with the harsh, impersonal world of espionage.

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