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

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Why was Leamas a drunk?

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Drinking is the only way Alec Leamas knows how to handle the deeply traumatic events he encountered during World War Two. Then he watched in horror as many innocent people died, and the appalling memories of that dark period of history have stayed with him ever since. He's especially haunted by the memory of a German plane dive-bombing a convoy of refugees on the road outside Rotterdam.

Despite his gruff, hard-boiled exterior, Leamas has been damaged psychologically by such horrific experiences. As with many people in his situation, he uses alcohol as an emotional crutch, a coping mechanism that allows him to get through each day. Leamas is a prime example of a functioning alcoholic, someone, who despite his addiction, is nonetheless able to hold down a very responsible job.

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