Synopsis of the Spy who Came in from the Cold

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Synopsis of the Spy who Came in from the Cold -

Alec Leamas is a middle-aged man, a spy working for the English Intelligence Agency MI5, informally called the Circus. However, all of his current agents have been either killed or on the run due to the brutish work of a man named Mundt, the head of East Germany Intelligence. Because of Leamas' failures and shortcomings, many of his colleagues believe him to be washed up and burnt out, and Leamas resorts to drinking and smoking. However, the Circus and its head, Control, give him one last shot for revenge against Mundt. The plan consists of supplying Fiedler, Mundt's deputy and an intelligent advocate of Communism, with evidence that Mundt is a double agent, actually working for the British Intelligence. While devising his scheme, Leamas meets another Communist advocate, a young woman named Liz Gold, while working at a library. They develop feelings for one another, and Leamas later forces Control to agree to leave Liz out of the scheme.

Leamas then voluntarily gets arrested as loudly as possible, assaulting a grocery store worker in broad daylight. He gets taken to jail, which then leads to him meeting Fiedler, as Fiedler wants Leamas now for interrogational purposes. As they talk, Leamas feeds Fiedler the information from the Circus in order to convince Fiedler that Mundt really is a double agent, working for British Intelligence. Once Fiedler is satisfied that he has gained enough evidence from Leamas, he decides to take Mundt to trial and accuse him of being a double agent. In the meantime, Liz is also invited to East Germany to collaborate with other members of the Communist Party.

The trial ensues, and Fiedler presents many documents as evidence that Mundt is working as a double agent, including bank statements. However, the trial takes a turn for the worst for Leamas when Mundt's defense calls Liz Gold to the stand; after she unwillingly testifies against him, he realizes that his cover is now blown. He proceeds to confess everything that transgressed in exchange for Liz's freedom. After Leamas is through, Fiedler questions Mundt how knew that someone had paid off Liz's lease on her apartment. After a slight hesitation, Mundt responds with a logical explanation. Once this exchange ends, the Tribunal halts the trial and proceeds to arrest Fiedler. Leamas then begins to realize the point of the whole operation.

Leamas realizes in his epiphany that the purpose of the operation was to eliminate Fiedler. Leamas understands that the evidence and documentation that he provided to Fiedler is not fake as he previously believed, but real, meaning that Mundt actually IS a double agent, working for the British Intelligence Agency. Fiedler had to be eliminated for the simple reason that he was getting too close to revealing Mundt as a double agent, and he was too big, too influential for Mundt to take down on his own; this would have caused suspicion. So, the Circus had to do it for him. Therefore, they set forth a complex scheme; they had Leamas meet Liz in a library, and consequentially the two developed an intimate relationship. Because they had developed this relationship, by using Mundt's using Liz during the trial and exposing Leamas for who he truly was in the operation, she also discredited Fiedler and his argument, and therefore the Tribunal arrested Fiedler.

After the trial, Leamas and Liz are allowed to leave in a car, as ordered by Mundt. On the way, Leamas explains everything to Liz about what happened, and she is disgusted as to the fact that the British Intelligence killed a good, innocent man. When they get to the Berlin wall, Leamas climbs up first. As he reaches down to give Liz a boost up, she is shot by the guards stationed on the other side. As he sees his lover get shot, Leamas climbs back down to the same side and consequentially gets shot and dies as well. In this moment, Leamas essentially takes the step to get "out of the cold."

This novel, released during the Cold War era, deals with the idea that the Western democracies were being hypercritical; that their core moral values and beliefs did not match up whatsoever with their spying and espionage tactics. In this novel, the idea is expressed that one side is not any better, nor morally righteous than the other if both participate in deceitful actions.

Hero's Archetype in the novel and significance -

Alec Leamas, due to his humorless, cynical nature, can easily be identified as a Byronic hero in many aspects, which has many similarities with the anti-hero.

The Byronic hero characteristics that Leamas easily fits are listed as follows:

1) Is a rebel (against convention, society)

2) Has a distaste for society and social institutions

3) Isolated from society (wanderer)

4) Prideful

5) Self-destructive

6) Has a hidden curse or crime

At the beginning of the novel, it is clear to the reader that Alec Leamas has failed at his job - all of his agents have been either killed or run off - "It surprised no one very much when they put Leamas on the shelf. In the main, they said, Berlin had been a failure for years, and someone had to take the rap. Besides he was old for operational work…it was bad luck about his pension, decidedly bad luck." (pg. 27). As a result, he is separate from the rest of his agency due to lack of success. This perception only grows as he starts to drink and smoke tobacco. His colleagues believe he is washed out and going off the deep end. "In the full view of his colleagues he was transformed from a man honorably put aside to a resentful, drunken wreck - and all within a few months." (pg. 28) Then, Leamas is given the option of exacting revenge upon the man that has killed and scattered all of Leamas' agents, an option he accepts (or rather, does not deny). Through Leamas' own actions and his involvement in the complex scheme, he becomes isolated from the rest of society as well as his intelligence agency - he is sacked from his job in order to complete his mission, and is given a job in a remote town in order to fulfill certain obligations. Leamas' own decisions, such as drinking and smoking- "But in the end his neglect, his brutal, unreasoning malice isolated [Leamas]." (pg. 28)- as well as his choice to stay in the "cold" prevents him from becoming too personal with any individual. The one person he develops intimacy with, Liz Gold, inevitably results in his downfall as she is used against him by his own intelligence agency in the trial near the end of the novel in order to discredit Fiedler, something Leamas did not want. This relationship leads to the death of both Liz and Leamas in the end as they attempt to sneak over the Wall.

It is evident throughout the novel that Leamas is self-destructive: he willingly places himself into dangerous situations, beginning with staying in the "cold" and participating in the Circus' scheme, and ending with his choice to follow Liz back down the Wall, inevitably to his death. Leamas continually acts on impulse, without thinking, and makes irrational decisions, which sometimes jeopardizes his precarious position. "Hence also the slight dragging of the feet, the aspect of personal neglect, the indifference to food, and an increasing reliance on alcohol and tobacco. When alone, he remained faithful to these habits." (pg. 121). His self-destructive nature is only exacerbated by the fact that he is not interested in an afterlife. Leamas' defeatist attitude and self-destructive tendencies, in addition to his cynical attitude toward his Intelligence Agency, ultimately lead him to accept death in the end, perhaps for these self-absorbed reasons.

Leamas proves to be quite arrogant and cynical, as throughout the novel he fails to show much respect for any person. However, he does not talk often and is a man of few words; rather, through his thoughts and perceptions, it is clear that Leamas usually believes he is right, and nearly always thinks he is the more intelligent person whenever in conversation with another individual. He always speaks his mind regardless of the repercussions with a strong active voice. When around an individual that he considers himself superior to, Leamas tends to ignore that person's opinions and questions, and speaks very little: "'He can't see that far in the dusk, he's guessing,' the American whispered and then he added: 'How did Mundt know?'

'Shut up,' said Leamas from the window…

'What's he saying?' said the American. Leamas didn't reply." (pg. 14)

Leamas rarely listens to others, and is rude to people he does not respect, shown through his sarcasm. He is humorless, and has a dry sense of sarcasm, sometimes improperly timed during serious conversation. When Liz attempts to force her opinion and suggestions upon him at one point in the novel, Leamas retorts, "I should have added that I don't like people who tell me what I ought to think." (pg. 37) In order to hide his shame, Leamas uses arrogance. In addition to showing abundant pride, Leamas' cynical attitude exacerbates his hatred and disdain for his agency, as well as the East German Agency. He becomes a rebel against both sides as he observes how they used him in order to kill an innocent, morally righteous man in Fiedler so that they could save a brutish, cruel man in Mundt for selfish reasons. He rejects his own kind, telling Liz "'What do you think spies are: priests, saints, and martyrs? They're a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors too, yes; pansies, sadists, and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives." (pg. 186) Leamas believes that agencies use their agents for egocentric reasons and do not regard the spies' personal safeties and interests. For this reason, he develops a cynical attitude toward his agency and tends to have a rebellious mindset toward his superiors - "'He is a very distasteful man. Ex-Hitler Youth and all that kind of thing. Not at all the intellectual kind of Communist. A practitioner of the Cold War.'"

'Like us,' Leamas observed drily. Control didn't smile." (pg. 25)

Obviously Leamas does not approve of his agency's immoral deeds - throughout the novel, because of Leamas' contempt and disapproval of the agencies that he and others work for, the author John le Carre is able to convey the idea that neither Democracy nor Communism is better if the actions they both partake in are morally wrong, despite what their core values are. The antithesis of the modern-day James Bond, glamorous spy, Leamas playing the Byronic hero is perfect for conveying this message, as his rebellious, cynical, and morose attitude toward his world perfectly reflects the message that le Carre is attempting to convey. Leamas sees his society as no better, and just as evil as the East German society.

How to Speak Like Alec Leamas

1) Talk in a demeaning tone toward those you feel superior over (Creates arrogance which he uses to hide his flaws, protection to keep people from invading personal info)

Leamas typically believes himself superior to those he does not know very well, as he thinks himself to be rather intelligent. As a result, he tends to talk in an aggressive, demeaning tone toward those individuals. For example, near the beginning of the novel, as he is waiting with an American man whom he has never met before, the American asks "How did Mundt know?" neither wanting to tell him nor acknowledging his question, Leamas answers "Shut up," (pg. 14), as he believes he has more important things to worry about than some foolish man asking him questions that he does not need to know the answer to. The demeaning voice that Leamas uses toward people he considers unimportant characterizes him as arrogant. Leamas uses the way he talks to others as a sort of shield, to keep them from asking too many questions as well as to hide his own personal flaws that he does not want revealed, as he is insecure emotionally.

2) Be cynical toward authority

Leamas does not particularly enjoy the agency he works for anymore; as a result, he usually is cynical and makes snide comments to Control during their conversations. Likewise, when he is being interrogated by Fiedler, he does not appear particularly threatened by him, regardless of his current precarious situation. As a result, Leamas makes cynical remarks which reflects his overall attitude toward the organization that controls him. As Control is briefing him during one session, a cynical exchange takes place - "'He is a very distasteful man. Ex-Hitler Youth and all that kind of thing. Not at all the intellectual kind of Communist. A practitioner of the Cold War.'

'Like us,' Leamas observed drily. Control didn't smile." (pg. 25)

Because Leamas generally disapproves of who he works for, he gets away with under-the-breath mutterings. This rebellious attitude helps reflect the archetype that Leamas holds, the Byronic hero. Showing disdain and disapproval of his organization proves that he rejects the institution, and allows him to retain some sort of individuality over the agency.

3) Speak in active voice, using declarative sentences (asserts dominance socially)

The tone that Leamas uses toward others allows him to assert his control over them; it keeps them in check. Leamas uses active voice often in the form of declarative sentences, so that he can be dominant socially. Whether he needs information from an individual or has to trick or hide information from someone, Leamas accomplishes these goals by dominating conversations, which asserts his authority and helps to reflect his arrogant nature - "'Who publishes the material, Kiever?' There was a threatening edge to Leamas' voice….

…'I think I can manage my buttons now,' Leamas retorted." (pg. 57).

In this exchange, Leamas is coercing Kiever into telling him information that he needs to know by asking the same question twice, and then later following up the exchange with a sarcastic, yet bold statement in active voice; because of the decisive edge in his voice, Kiever falters slightly and Leamas receives the information he desires, as before Kiever was avoiding the question. This tactic is particularly useful to Leamas because several times in the novel, Leamas either needs information from someone, or needs to assert control over an individual. He is able to do either effectively due to his ability to speak in active voice. Leamas' need to be in control reflects his domineering nature.

4) Use few words by talking tersely; keep information to yourself (you think yourself too good, too intellectual to express your opinions and beliefs with others)

Many times throughout the novel, Leamas is holding a conversation with someone and stays silent for much of it. Usually he says nothing more than the bare minimum. If someone asks him a question and he does not think it wise to convey that information, he replies with a short answer that reveals no obvious information, generally only one or two words, or will provide a non sequitur and avoid the question altogether. This helps to create a sense of uncertainty in the other person's dialogue, as that person does not know what Leamas is thinking, nor does that person know anything more about him than when they started talking. Even when Leamas does talk, it usually is a question or does not suffice the other fully. For example, when Leamas is exchanging conversation with Liz, she inquires about what he believes in - "'Alec, what do you believe in? Don't laugh-tell me.' She waited and at last he said:

'I believe an eleven bus will take me to Hammersmith. I don't believe it's driven by Father Christmas.'

She seemed to consider this and at last she asked again: 'But what do you believe in?'

Leamas shrugged.

'You must believe in something,' she persisted: 'something like God-I know you do, Alec; you've got that look sometimes, as if you'd got something special to do, like a priest. Alec, don't smile, it's true.'

He shook his head….

…'But Alec, you might as well say-'

'I should have added,' Leamas interrupted, 'that I don't like people who tell me what i ought to think.'" (pg. 37)

Throughout this entire above passage, Leamas effectively conceals what he believes in - Liz is none the wiser as to what's inside Leamas. The strategy utilized here is effective for interrogational purposes, as well as keeping information from anyone Leamas does not think should have it. This helps show that Leamas does not value others' opinions as much as his own, and tends to keep to himself about his own beliefs and values, even with those he holds close.

5) Talk in dry, sarcastic tones when annoyed (this could make your life harder, but does get your point across that you are annoyed) to anyone

Leamas uses laughter and humor very sparingly - this shows that he means business regardless of how serious the situation actually is. This is useful for him because it helps him to cut to the chase. Sarcasm is an automatic response for Leamas when he gets annoyed, or the conversation goes off topic - "'That gives me a nice, warm feeling,' Leamas retorted, and relapsed into silence." (pg. 112). Most of the time, Leamas talks on impulse, especially when using sarcasm, not realizing the possible consequences of his actions. This potentially leads to disastrous results while in precarious situations, but could also lead the other person to cut to the chase in the matter at hand. When speaking with authority, Leamas is more careful of when he uses these facetious responses, and they are generally more toned down. As a result of Leamas' sarcastic expression and humorless attitude, the rebellious and defeatist side of his nature can be easily depicted.

By imitating Alec Leamus' speech, one can find that it is very easily to alienate oneself, to keep information hidden from other people, to assert control over individuals, and to control the flow and direction of conversation while at the same time concealing one's flaws and insecurities. Practicing this speech format is risky, however; one may find that it can backfire if the wrong technique is used in a precarious situation.

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