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 5 : Credit | Summary



One day, Alec Leamas doesn't show up for work at the psychic library, which makes Miss Crail ecstatic, but worries Liz. Liz goes to Leamas's apartment, knocks on the door, and hears a faint groan from inside. Frantic, Liz gets a man to break down the door and finds Leamas lying in bed, seriously ill. She makes beef tea for Leamas and consoles him. She then straightens up his apartment as Leamas looks on. For the next six days, Liz nurses Leamas back to health. Liz asks Leamas if he loves her, but he replies that he "d[oes]n't believe in fairy tales." However, when Liz and Leamas caress, he often holds her hair tightly, as if he is clinging to her. One day, Leamas gets dressed and gently tells Liz that they have to part. Although distraught, Liz understands and leaves. The next morning, Leamas asks the grocer to put Leamas's groceries on credit. But the grocer won't agree, which infuriates Leamas, who hits the man twice, cracking his cheekbone and dislocating his jaw. The story is covered in the press.


In Chapter 5, the theme of love versus inhumanity takes a new turn as the relationship between Liz and Leamas develops. The novel contrasts the cold to Liz's and Leamas's love for each other. When Liz breaks into Leamas's apartment, it is bitterly cold. Leamas lies in bed, looking like a frigid corpse. Cold, therefore, can be seen as in a sense representing Leamas's spiritual condition as well as physical. From years of working for the Circus in the Cold War, Leamas has become an isolated, cynical person who exists without the warmth of human affection. Even if Leamas's decline is part of the Circus's plan, his isolation is still a reality. In Chapters 1 and 2, before his decline, Leamas already gives the impression of being a solitary, bitter man. This is why Control wonders if Leamas is mentally exhausted from doing his work.

However, Liz's love challenges the coldness of Leamas's life. When she finds him ill, she cares for him for six days. She cooks him hot food and makes his apartment more livable. Also, she gives him the warmth of her affection, which seems to restore his soul. Leamas tries to maintain a cynical façade with Liz, saying he doesn't love her because he "d[oes]n't believe in fairy tales." But when they caress, he clings to her, holding her hair tightly. It's as if he wants to hold on to her love and not let go. Also, Leamas says good-bye to Liz in as gentle a way as possible, showing his love for her.

Le Carré continues to provide clues that Leamas's decline is a deception planned by the Circus. In this chapter, Leamas completes his downward spiral by beating up a grocer. However, like Leamas's embezzlement in Chapter 3, this is a very public act, intended to attract attention, and the story conveniently winds up in the press. In addition, the grocer, whose wounds are very real, also represents another kind of deception: he is an example of an innocent bystander who it is necessary for Leamas to hurt in order to fulfill his mission. Finally, if Leamas's decline is a deception, then Leamas himself could be seen as a pawn being used by the Circus in another elaborate form of political manipulation.

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