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 4 : Liz | Summary



Alec Leamas gets a job working at the Bayswater Library for Psychic Research through the Labour Exchange, a government employment office. A librarian, Miss Crail, starts him on the task of doing a book inventory. Leamas meets a young woman named Liz Gold, who is an assistant at the library. He takes a long lunch, bringing back some bags filled with groceries. Miss Crail reprimands Leamas for taking an hour and a half for lunch. After work, Leamas realizes that the electricity in his apartment has been cut off because of unpaid bills.

Miss Crail treats Leamas like an enemy, either ignoring him or scowling at him. After three weeks, Liz asks Leamas to dinner at her place. Leamas reluctantly accepts. During the following weeks, Liz often has Leamas over for dinner. Afterward, she talks about various topics as Leamas listens. One time, Liz asks Leamas what he believes in. He gives a cynical reply, saying he doesn't believe in Father Christmas. Liz claims that Leamas seems to be storing up some type of hate, like a "fanatic who doesn't want to convert people, and that's a dangerous thing." Leamas warns Liz to mind her own business. He then laughs when he Liz tells him that she's a Communist. She asks him to stay the night, and they make love. After he leaves her apartment, Leamas sees a mysterious man who disappears into the mist.


Chapter 4 explores the theme of love versus inhumanity through the psychic library and Miss Crail. She can be seen as representing the institution of the library, with all of its coldness and rules. Institutional rules govern her life. Leamas flaunts these rules, and she can't deal with it. For example, when Leamas puts his coat on her peg, Miss Crail "st[ands] in front of it [his coat] shaking, for fully five minutes." Also, her inflexibility causes her to treat Leamas in a harsh, inhumane manner. She sees situations in a black-and-white way in her deep hostility—either a person supports the institution or is against it.

Miss Crail and her library have many similarities with the Circus and the Cold War. Both the library and the Circus are institutions that have unwritten rules employees are expected to follow. For example, spies working for the Circus should not confide in others, even trusted friends and lovers. In addition, both institutions are riddled with deception. Within the Circus, deception is rampant because it is considered part of the work of espionage. However, Miss Crail is also prone to deception. Leamas hears her whispering over the phone, conspiring with her mother.

Le Carré sees love as the solution to the coldness of the library and the Cold War. Liz falls in love with Leamas after they meet as employees in the library. He also seems to have a strong affection for her, although the strength of this bond is not yet fully revealed. Because of this intimate relationship, they do not see each other in a black-and-white way, but rather as human beings with needs. For instance, Leamas finds out that Liz is a Communist. In the arena of the Cold War, Liz's ideology would make her Leamas's enemy. However, in their relationship, her views do not hinder them from falling in love. Her communist beliefs are just one aspect of who she is as a person. Indeed, Leamas seems to find it amusing that he should fall for a Communist, after fighting against communists in his work. Also, Liz's being a Communist and Jewish foreshadows the character of Fiedler, another Jew, who appears later in the novel.

The theme of deception continues in this chapter with more direct hints that Leamas's decline has been planned by the Circus for their own ends. For example, Mr. Pitt of the Labor Exchange, who sets up Leamas's job at the library, might work for the Circus. Also, Liz senses that Leamas is hiding a fanatical hatred and wants vengeance on someone. Although she knows nothing of Leamas's history as an agent, her insight correctly points to Leamas's desire to kill Mundt, and in turn, to the Circus's plot to get rid of Mundt. At the end of the chapter, Leamas sees a mysterious man who disappears into the fog. Perhaps this man is a fellow spy or an employee of the Circus, but his identity remains unclear.

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