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 6 : Contact | Summary



Due to his attack on the grocer, Alec Leamas spends several months in prison, where other inmates treat him with hostility because he acts aloof. When he gets out, he is given a package that contains all his possessions. Leamas wants to get rid of the package and so leaves it on a park bench. A man named Ashe picks it up and approaches Leamas. He tells Leamas that he forgot his package, but Leamas says he doesn't want it and accuses Ashe of following him. Ashe claims that he recognizes Leamas as a person he borrowed money from years ago in Berlin. Leamas suspects Ashe is not really telling the truth but agrees to go with Ashe when he offers to take him to lunch. During lunch, Ashe explains to Leamas how they met in Berlin. Finally, Leamas pretends to remember, which pleases Ashe. Ashe ingratiates himself with Leamas by agreeing with everything he says, but Leamas knows Ashe must have an ulterior motive. Ashe pays for lunch in repayment for his supposed debt to Leamas.

After they part, Leamas takes a convoluted route, which involves changing multiple buses and trains. He ends up at the house of George Smiley, a leader in the Circus. However, Smiley is not at home. Instead, Control is there. Leamas explains in detail what has happened from the day he beat up the grocer to his recent contact with Ashe. Control says he's sorry he couldn't have made Leamas's prison stay more comfortable, but that would have blown his cover. When Control asks Leamas if anyone took care of him when he was ill, Leamas hesitates to mention Liz, but Control clearly knows about her. Leamas insists that Liz not be involved in any way with Circus's plan, and Control agrees. Leamas wonders how Control is so certain that the East Germans have contacted him to "get us where we want," instead of the Czechs or Soviets. Control assures him not to worry because this issue "has been taken care of."


Chapter 6 exposes what has been hinted at in previous chapters, namely that Leamas's decline is a deception staged by the Circus as part of its scheme to get rid of Mundt. Le Carré reveals this in stages. First, Leamas acts in a secretive way in prison, which implies he is hiding something. Later, Leamas knows almost immediately that his chance meeting with Ashe is not really a coincidence, and Ashe is not who he seems and likely has an ulterior motive. Finally, when Leamas meets Control, Control already knows that Ashe, who sought out Leamas, is a contact from the East Germans.

In Chapter 6, le Carré further explores this relationship between deception and reality. Leamas's entire decline up to this point in the novel involves real suffering. He drinks too much; he lives in a cold, dingy apartment; and he experiences the humiliation of poverty and social rejection. He is forced to part from Liz, the woman he actually has come to love. Finally, he spends several months in prison, still undercover. Leamas is playing a part dictated by the Circus when he goes to prison. However, the pain he feels there is not fake, but real, as human pain contrasts with political manipulation that uses it. The Circus, therefore, appears as a master manipulator that manipulates a person's real pain for its own ends.

Le Carré returns to this theme of political manipulation during the conversation between Leamas and Control. As suspected, Leamas is being used as a pawn in a game with the East Germans that has to do with getting rid of Mundt. But because Leamas plays only one part in a much larger plan, his perspective is limited and he cannot see its full scope. Leamas reveals this limitation when he wonders how the Circus knows that the East Germans, and not the Russians or Czechs, have contacted him. Control seems to know more about it than Leamas, but rather than sharing further information, tells him not to worry about it.

Also, Chapter 6 demonstrates the conflict between political manipulation and love. Although Leamas accepts his role as a pawn, he knows that this type of game can take unexpected, often dark, turns. Because of his limited knowledge, however, he has no way to prepare for them. As result, his love for Liz makes him worry that she will somehow be pulled into the game. Leamas emphatically says to Control, "I just want her left alone. I just don't want her to be messed about." Control agrees and says, "This is your last job. Then you can come in from the cold." In this context, the cold can refer to the Cold War, but also more. In the novel, it can also signal the possibility that Leamas may be able to move away from his solitary, cold existence as a spy and embrace the warmth of love with Liz. For Leamas, his relationship with her stands outside, and possibly in direct competition with, his work for the Circus. This tension will move along with the spy story.

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