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 23 : Confession | Summary



In the courtroom, Leamas takes the witness stand and tells Karden to let Liz go. Leamas insists that Liz knows nothing about the operation. Liz begs Leamas to reveal nothing because of her, but he refuses, saying "it's too late now." Fiedler says Liz has told everything she knows and so keeping her serves no purpose. The President of the Tribunal is amazed that Fiedler is willing to let Liz go without questioning her. Fiedler escorts Liz out of the courtroom and tells her to go back to England.

Leamas confesses that he intentionally lived like a down-and-out alcoholic, assaulted the grocer, and went to prison, all to convince Fiedler that he wanted to defect. After that, Leamas provided enough information to convince Fiedler that Mundt is a defector. According to Leamas, Fiedler's hatred of Mundt made him eager to convict him, but Fiedler did not betray the Communist Party. Mundt tells Leamas that he'll hang.

Leamas tries to defend Fiedler. He tells the Tribunal that Fiedler is not working with the Circus, and that Mundt beat up Fiedler repeatedly for being a Jew. Leamas figures Smiley paid Leamas's bills because he was shaken about a previous botched operation. He realized that Leamas's mission was inhumane, and therefore tried to wreck it on purpose. Fiedler, though, does not believe Smiley would intentionally sabotage Leamas's mission. He asks Mundt how he knew Liz's apartment lease had been paid by the Circus, when neither Liz nor the Circus would admit this. Mundt hesitates, then claims that he noticed that Liz increased her monthly Party's subscription by ten shillings. He wondered how she could afford this, so he checked into her financial history and found out that her apartment was paid off. The President says the Tribunal has enough information to make a report to the Praesidium. Fiedler will be relieved of his duties, and Leamas will remain under arrest. Suddenly, Leamas realizes "the whole ghastly trick."


Chapter 23 is the third stage in the revelation of the Circus's manipulations. At this point, Leamas has become totally confused about what is really happening with his mission. However, he realizes that the plan to convict Mundt of treason has been blown. Because this, he falls back on what he knows for sure. Leamas admits he pretended to be a disillusioned to alcoholic to convince Fiedler he wanted to defect. Also, he knows that Smiley left active work in the Circus for personal reasons. Putting two and two together, Leamas figures Smiley felt guilty about his work in the Circus and so sabotaged the operation. In the fourth stage, therefore, Leamas gives a full confession of what he believes is true, thereby admitting defeat.

When Fiedler is arrested, "with the terrible clarity of a man too long deceived, Leamas understood the whole ghastly trick." He is suddenly in a different position than usual. As a spy, Leamas is aware of some details of a given mission, but not others. His knowledge is limited, so he cannot see the big picture. At this moment in the trial, however, Leamas can finally see it, "the whole ghastly trick." Exactly what that means will be revealed in the final chapters of the novel, but Leamas's sudden comprehension suggests that the level of manipulation which he, Liz, and Fiedler have been forced to endure is even worse than he had previously thought. Fiedler's arrest, not Mundt's, has been the aim of the mission all along.

Le Carré further develops the resemblance between Liz and Fiedler in this chapter. As has been shown previously, Liz and Fiedler are both Jewish and, therefore, are both outsiders in their respective societies. In addition, Liz and Fiedler are both honest people who have a sincere belief in their ideologies and try to play by the rules. Each has a strong link to Leamas. Liz loves Leamas; Fiedler befriends him as a respected adversary. However, in the manipulative world of the Cold War, a person's individual qualities don't matter. Instead, what matters is that Liz and Fiedler are Jewish and thus expendable outsiders. Indeed, Mundt hates Jews, which must make the plan to manipulate Liz and Fiedler especially attractive to him. Fiedler realizes how Mundt has used him and Liz and why when he gazes at her at the trial: "[Fiedler] smiled very slightly, as if in recognition of her race." After this, Fiedler treats Liz in a gentle way by escorting her out of the courtroom and telling her to go home. Later, Leamas tells the Tribunal how Mundt tortured Fiedler because he's Jewish, hoping to elicit sympathy. However, the Tribunal just stares coldly at him, which suggests that they likely share Mundt's prejudice against Jews.

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