The Spy Who Came in From the Cold


John Le Carré

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The Spy Who Came in From the Cold Themes

Themes and Colors
Ideology and Morality Theme Icon
Alienation and Connection  Theme Icon
Identity and Autonomy Theme Icon
Loyalty and Betrayal Theme Icon
Elites and Others Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Ideology and Morality

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold takes place at the height of Cold War tensions, when the competition for dominance of Europe between the Communist Soviet Union and the Capitalist West was at its fiercest. Most of the novel’s characters are spies on one side or the other of this ideological divide. But the novel is less interested in answering the ideological question of whether the right system for running human society is…

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Alienation and Connection

Alec Leamas, the middle-aged, world-weary spy who is The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’s protagonist, is deeply alienated from other people and from society. During World War II and after, he has seen a great deal of violence that has made him suspicious of human nature and afraid to get close to anyone. He divorced his wife and has not had contact with his children in many years. But although he…

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Identity and Autonomy

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold explores the emotional experience and outward behavior of an individual who attempts to perform an assumed identity. Even for a spy, attempting to stick to a role is mentally exhausting and can make the individual easy to manipulate. Both the Circus, the British spying headquarters, and its East German counterpart the Abteilung use this to their advantage.

The novel tracks the process by which Alec Leamas loses…

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Loyalty and Betrayal

Loyalty or the lack thereof is a defining quality of the characters in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Each character presents a unique combination of loyalties: some are most loyal to organizations and ideologies, while others are dedicated to moral principles and to other people. Some characters, however, are willing to betray anyone or anything for their own gain.

Loyalty to an organization is of the utmost importance for spies and intelligence…

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Elites and Others

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is not only concerned with the Cold War tensions between the Communist and Capitalist systems—it also looks at tensions between haves and have-nots in both societies, tensions stretching back far into their histories. In particular, the novel points to the way social class and religious identity can define an individual’s opportunities in each society. And, once again, the novel finds more similarities than differences between East and…

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