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 17 : Mundt | Summary



In a prison cell, a guard unties Leamas and kicks him when he tries to stand up. Stiff from being tied up and shaky from lack of food and water, Leamas manages to get to his feet and leans against the wall. The guards lead Leamas to a room, where Mundt is waiting. Leamas sits in a chair, and Mundt gives him food and drink. Mundt tells him Fiedler has been arrested, and Leamas will serve as a witness against him. If necessary, Leamas will stand trial for the murder of the guard. Mundt has an athletic, disciplined appearance and an impersonal manner. He knows the Circus has planned an operation to frame him. He realizes Leamas's bitterness toward the Circus was all a façade to convince Fiedler that Leamas was a real defector. From his interrogation of Leamas, Fiedler believed he was getting information to convict Mundt of being a traitor. Mundt considers Fiedler stupid for falling into this trap. He asks Leamas when he last talked to Smiley. Even though Leamas is sick from the physical abuse he experienced in his cell, Mundt intends to send him back there and tie him up unless he provides an answer. Suddenly the door opens and Leamas hears shouting. He wakes up in a hospital bed and sees Fiedler standing at the foot of it.


Leamas has been thrust into a situation devoid not only of love, but also any type of human consideration. Previously, he has been manipulated in a game by the Circus for its own ends. However, Mundt seems to have won this game by capturing Leamas. As a result, the degree to which Leamas is treated like an object rather than a person increases. He is abused by his captors and will continue to be abused until he provides the information Mundt wants. In the black-and-white world of the Cold War, each side vilifies the other, and winning is all that matters. Leamas is seen as the enemy and thus receives no consideration as an individual.

Mundt reflects this severe world view. Le Carré depicts him as rigid and almost expressionless. In a way, he acts less like a human being than like a machine executing its set purpose. His face is described as "barren of humor or fantasy." Cold is an important symbolic feature in the description of Mundt: "There was a coldness about him, a rigorous self-sufficiency which perfectly equipped him for the business of murder." In previous chapters, le Carré uses coldness to represent the Cold War and to signify the harshness of Leamas's world of espionage. In this case, coldness is used to represents Mundt's lack of humanity. He has become the embodiment of the cruelty of the Cold War.

Although Leamas has been caught in a black-and-white struggle, it is important to note that he is also in a gray or murky area, in which the truth can never be known for sure at any moment.

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