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 13 : Pins or Paper Clips | Summary



Fiedler and Alec Leamas take walks in the forest, during which Fiedler asks detailed questions about working for the Circus. Fiedler asks what the philosophy is of the people working for the Circus. Fiedler explains that the people working in the Abteilung believe in the philosophy of the Communist Party and, as a result, their actions reflect these beliefs. Leamas claims that the people in the Circus don't believe in a shared philosophy. Most of them aren't even Christians. Fiedler asks more about the Rolling Stone operation, such as whether Control has samples of false signatures. Leamas says Control has plenty of sample signatures, which enabled Leamas to forge a signature and write directly to the banks in Helsinki and Copenhagen. Fiedler wonders if Leamas could write to the banks now using one of these false signatures and ask for a current statement. If Leamas did this, Fiedler might be able to trace the location of the agent being paid from these accounts. Leamas refuses, saying he never agreed to write any letters. Fiedler admits that he wants Leamas to stay in East Germany for a while in case he needs more detailed information. However, Fiedler promises that after he gets the needed information, he will assist Leamas in getting out from behind the Iron Curtain. Leamas agrees to write the letters.

Leamas wants to make sure his deception of being a bitter alcoholic is completely convincing. As a result, he even plays this role when he is alone. He adopts a shuffling walk, neglects his appearance, and demonstrates "an increasing reliance on alcohol and tobacco." Leamas realizes that Control was right about how to approach the mission: "Fiedler was walking ... into the net which Control had spread for him."


Chapter 13 continues to explore the rationales behind political manipulation by contrasting the Abteilung with the Circus. As Fiedler points out, the people working for the Abteilung share a common philosophy, communism. Communism is based on the concept that the good of the whole supersedes the good of the individual. As a result, Fiedler and other officials in the Abteilung have no qualms about abusing or killing individuals if doing so will benefit the masses. The people working for the Circus definitely do not believe in communism, as Fiedler knows. In fact, these people live in a Christian country and may have been influenced by Christian morals. Christianity, though, he says, does not support harming individuals for the good of the whole. Each individual life is sacred and thus is worth saving. Democracy also favors the individual. Even so, the Circus uses the same rationale as the Abteilung, namely sacrificing individuals for the whole. The Circus, therefore, acts in a hypocritical way, according to Fiedler.

In this chapter, Leamas continues to deceive Fiedler by making him believe that he is a bitter man who wants to get back at the Circus. However, le Carré points out that Leamas, unlike a stage actor, can never stop performing his role. Leamas's deception must be constant for fear that he will slip up and reveal some hint about his true motives. The narrator states, "When alone, [Leamas] remained faithful to these habits. He would even exaggerate them." The implication is that the border between fantasy/playacting and reality is blurring for Leamas even more than it has at previous points in the novel. In Leamas's life, deception is becoming so integrated into his life that it becomes the truth. For example, to present a convincing façade of a down-and-out person, Leamas drinks heavily. He does this all the time, even when alone. So in essence, Leamas becomes an alcoholic. The pretense is no longer false, but the dramatic irony is true.

By being immersed in constant deception, Leamas is in danger of losing his true self. Because of this, he has reached out to an outsider, Liz. As a Jew and a Communist, Liz is separate from the mainstream of British society and definitely from the world of the Circus. He sees loving her as a way to lift himself out of this web of lies and salvage his personal life. Interestingly, le Carré also begins forming a connection between Liz and Fiedler. Both are Jewish, Communists, and outsiders, like Leamas but different. The author also portrays Fiedler as a solitary person who does not belong in the cliques within the Abteilung. In addition, both Liz and Fiedler offer their friendship to Leamas. Le Carré further develops these resemblances between Liz and Fiedler in later chapters.

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