The Spy Who Came in from the Cold Questions and Answers
by John le Carre

Start Your Free Trial

How does Liz’s role exemplify a major symbol in the novel, as the final lines suggest (“As he fell, Leamas saw a small car smashed between great lorries, and the children waving cheerfully through the window”)?

Expert Answers info

Walter Fischer eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2013

write4,089 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Business

In John Le Carre's classic novel of espionage and betrayal, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Liz Gold represents innocence, naivety, and oppression. As a Jewish woman, and as was seen with the East German agent Fiedler, Liz is a marked figure. She is the universally oppressed character whose faith in a future dominated by an atheistic culture offers a refuge from the prejudices that dominated Europe during the recently-passed world war. Alec Leamas, in contrast, is the embodiment of world-wise but eternally corrupted, a professional and experienced practitioner of deceit—part of a "squalid procession of vain fools," to quote the character's self-description.

About halfway through Le Carre's novel, Leamas has a close encounter with another driver, forcing him to slam on his brakes to avoid a collision. As the author describes his protagonist's observations, Leamas "saw out of the corner of his eye four children in the back [of the other vehicle] waving and laughing." Again, the symbol of innocence and naivety: the children are enjoying the adventure, oblivious to the very real dangers they are experiencing. The final passage in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold depicts Liz's execution by East German border guards and Leamas's final moment of contemplation before deciding on death for himself. The frightened father driving the other vehicle in which rode those four children are riding is re-imagined in the final sentence, the car now crashed but the children still happily enjoying the experience. The father of the children is presumed dead.

Le Carre's ending is intended to illuminate one final time the innocence and naivety represented by the character of Liz Gold and by those happy but oblivious children. Leamas has realized the extent of the deception of which he has been a part and, now, a victim. The ending, however, is also intended to force the reader to reflect on that earlier near-disaster involving the four children. The chapter in which this encounter occurs begins with a prophetic observation: "It is said that men condemned to death are subject to sudden moments of elation." Leamas, fatally wounded, experienced that "sudden moment of elation": The "children waving cheerfully through the window."

check Approved by eNotes Editorial