Seminar: Week 2
John le Carre, ‘The Spy Who Came In From the Cold’
‘The Spy who came in from the cold’ traces British spy, Alec Leamas’s new assignment which results in the death of an innocent man, and the continued freedom of a murderous criminal. Though fiction, it is of value to a sociologist because the story develops the British intelligence service to portray it as deviant, which detracts from the common belief that such institutions exist to promote justice and protection of those who are innocent. It therefore contests the common notion that state institutions strive for justice to be found, and so provides the argument that it is not only members of a society that can become deviant, but also the institutions who are responsible for them.
The reader is introduced to Alec Leamas, a middle-aged British spy who has recently finished working in Berlin, and is desperately hoping to avoid a desk-job back in London. Leamas comes into contact with a German named Fiedler, an innocent German spy who wishes to overturn his corrupt boss Mundt who is secretly spying for Britain. Leamas wishes to help him, partly due to his hatred of Mundt, however, when he realises there is no chance of this happening then he assists in the killing of Fiedler, as he becomes aware that his collegue’s death is inevitable. Overall, Leamas’s motivation is more self-presevation than a wish to see Fiedler dead. His wish to remain as an agent is greater than his wish to avoid the murder of an innocent man, and thus, why he is not depicted as a millacious or manipulative man, he agrees to the death of Fieldler in order to protect his own life.
The same cannot be said for Mundt. He is both millacious and manipulative, and is willing to go to any length to avoid his illegal connections with the British government becoming apparent. Several characters are murdered, under Mundt’s orders, throughout the novel, including Fiedler and later Leamas, in order to preserve the character’s respected position. What is ironic about this construct is that he is the Protector of Peace for Berlin, but is also the one causing such terror to his associates in order to keep his job. Once again, Le Carre is able to present those in power as deviant, and thus the justice system is heavily criticised.
When studying the social context of this novel it is of particular importance to note that it was staged only ten years after the Second World War. As previously suggested, Mundt calls for the murder of Fiedler in order to secure his own position within the state, however his motivation is also fuelled by the fact that Fiedler is a Jew. Leamas explains that Mundt was part of the Hitler Youth, and several references are made which regard him as Nazi, and therefore it is suggested that Nazi ideology contributed to Mundt’s wish to eliminate Fiedler. The writer therefore portrays the crime, as not only one of money and reputation, but also places it into context, by addressing the likely hatred of a Jew by a character whose upbringing was rooted in the Nazi Party in the 1950s.
Le Carre also pays close attention to the gender roles that were commonly adopted in this time period. He uses the character of Liz Gold, Leamas’s lover, to present the sexual inequalities and stereotypes that existed in the 1950s. Gold is brought into the crime scene only through her love for Leamas, and continuous reference to her extreme emotions are made, in contrast to most male characters who have seen so many deaths that they are no longer phased by it. Liz is described as “a fool”… “with tears running down her face” and thus suggests that she was incapable of dealing with such an elaborate crime. She looks to Leamas for protection and guidance, and shared the common belief within this period that women need looking after. Consequently, within the crime genre, Le Carre becomes a spectator to the gender division of the 1950s, showing the only prominent female character as irrational and hysterical, whilst the men are developed as reasoned, impassive beings. Thus, it can be inferred that the 1950s crime scene was no place for a woman.
The role of institutions within this novel comes under strong criticism from Le Carre. As already identified, the British government is depicted as a deviant body, more interested in self-preservation than justice. This allows the sociologist (albeit fictional) insight into the ideology of a body who is stereotypically trusted within society, therefore suggesting that government services cannot just be taken at face-value as a protector of its people. When I first started ready the novel, and was introduced to the government agents I automatically trusted them, and assumed that it was those trying to thwart their plans that were in the wrong. This however was not the case, and instead the agents murdered an innocent man to protect their own assets. Both within the novel, and if applied to a study of society, this provides an interesting twist, as it reminds us of the need to investigate rather than accepting what we assume to be correct because it is what we are told.
Overall, the novel provides a cynical account of the institutions which we, as civilians who, whether wishing to or not, look to the state for protection. By situating the crime within the very area where stereotypically crime is prevented or punished rather than implemented, le Carre reminds the reader that it is always necessary to fully investigate each social situation. To the study of sociology, he certainly reminded me that is destructive to simply adopt the stereotype that those in power are automatically to be trusted, for example, the government or the police, and that they will always protect society from those who are thought deviant. For in this novel it is the Protector of the Peace engages in the most extreme crime of all; the murder of many, including his own associates, and therefore this shows the need for social investigation of each social context, rather than assuming that the so-called ‘good’ people, who command the more respected positions within society can not also be deviant.