Alienated Selfhood and Heroism: A Poststructuralist Reading


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Florida International University
FIU Digital Commons
FIU Electronic Theses and Dissertations

University Graduate School

6-25-2014
Alienated Selfhood and Heroism: A Poststructuralist Reading of John le Carré’s Spy Fiction Novels
Milton Zuniga
Florida International University, [email protected]

DOI: 10.25148/etd.FI14071175 Follow this and additional works at: https://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/etd
Recommended Citation
Zuniga, Milton, "Alienated Selfhood and Heroism: A Poststructuralist Reading of John le Carré’s Spy Fiction Novels" (2014). FIU Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1541. https://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/etd/1541
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FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY Miami, Florida
ALIENATED SELFHOOD AND HEROISM: A POST-STRUCTURALIST READING OF JOHN LE CARRÉ’S SPY FICTION NOVELS
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of MASTER OF ARTS in ENGLISH by Milton Zuniga 2014

To: Interim Dean Michael R. Heithaus College of Arts and Sciences
This thesis, written by Milton Zuniga, and entitled Alienated Selfhood and Heroism: A Poststructuralist Reading of John le Carré’s Spy Fiction Novels, having been approved in respect to style and intellectual content, is referred to you for judgment. We have read this dissertation and recommend that it be approved.
_______________________________________ Nathaniel Cadle
_______________________________________ Richard Sugg
_______________________________________ Bruce Harvey, Major Professor
Date of Defense: June 25, 2014
The thesis of Milton Zuniga is approved.
_______________________________________ Interim Dean Michael R. Heithaus College of Arts and Sciences
_______________________________________ Dean Lakshmi N. Reddi
University Graduate Studies
Florida International University, 2014
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© Copyright 2014 by Milton Zuniga All rights reserved.
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I wish to thank the members of my committee for their patience, understanding, and intellectual support. Their direct and firm guidance has made this project a reality. Dr. Nathaniel Cadle, thank you for taking the time to show me that writing is not just about putting words on paper. Dr. Richard Sugg, thank you for always being the voice of encouragement and support. Dr. Bruce Harvey, I wish to truly thank you for taking on the responsibility of helping me, an unknown student to you at the time, by agreeing to be my Major Professor in this project, and for not letting me settle for less than what I can do. Finally, I want to express my sincere gratitude to Dr. Asher Milbauer who was always available and willing to help me move along with my goals. To all, my most sincere appreciation. I have found my coursework throughout the English program to be challenging and stimulating while providing me the tools and experience necessary to explore other opportunities in my field of choice.
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ABSTRACT OF THE THESIS ALIENATED SELFHOOD AND HEROISM: A POST-STRUCTURALIST READING
OF JOHN LE CARRÉ’S SPY FICTION NOVELS by
Milton Zuniga Florida International University, 2014
Miami, Florida Professor Bruce Harvey, Major Professor John le Carré’s novels “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” (1963), “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (1974), and “The Tailor of Panama” (1997), focus on how the main characters reflect the somber reality of working in the British intelligence service. Through a broad post-structuralist analysis, I will identify the dichotomies - good/evil in “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” past/future in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” and institution/individual in “The Tailor of Panama” - that frame the role of the protagonists. Each character is defined by his ambiguity and swinging moral compass, transforming him into a hybrid creation of morality and adaptability during transitional time periods in history, mainly during the Cold War. Le Carré’s novels reject the notion of spies standing above a group being celebrated. Instead, he portrays spies as characters who trade off individualism and social belonging for a false sense of heroism, loneliness, and even death.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER

PAGE

I. CONSTRUCTING SHADOWS AND ILLUSIONS…………………………..… 1

II. FALLING SHORT OF REDEMPTION ………………………….………...…....13

III. MEANS JUSTIFY MY END ……………………………………….……..……...32

IV. WEAVING A LIE ………………………………………………………...………52

V. INTO THE COLD …………………………………………………..…..…….......71

WORKS CITED ……………………………………………………………...…………77

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I. CONSTRUCTING SHADOWS AND ILLUSIONS
John le Carré’s spy novels The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1963), Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), and The Tailor of Panama (1997), focus on the struggles the protagonists have as spies.1 The novels display characters who are submerging their
individuality to pursue dubiously patriotic yet clandestine goals, the former which
undermines initial or sustained realism, the latter which dissociates them from any
community other than the secretive and murky agencies they either affiliate with or fight
against. Upon a closer reading of the novels, the spy is revealed as flawed and isolated
from society, which allows Le Carré the opportunity to undermine any heroic pursuit by
the individual. In the three novels to be examined in this thesis, Le Carré hinders his
main characters’ chances at heroism, and instead shapes them to be social outcasts in need of salvation and redemption. 2 With an undertone of resentment, in addition to textual hierarchies, and aporai,3 Le Carré exposes the insulated world of spies and the ‘cold’ environment in which secrets are shared.4
1 Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974) is the first part of the “The Karla Trilogy” along with The Honourable Schoolboy (1977), and Smiley’s People (1980). The trilogy helps to establish familiar themes in subsequent texts by John le Carré. These include loyalty/betrayal, past/present, and institution/individualism. The trilogy traces George Smiley’s pursuit and eventual reunion with his “darker half,” Soviet spymaster Karla. The trilogy would be reissued in 1982 under the name The Quest for Karla (Beene 89). 2 Born David John Moore Cornwell, he adopted the penname of “John le Carré” while working at MI-6, the British military intelligence version of the CIA. As an agent, he was not allowed to publish documents or manuscripts under his real name. “Le Carré” is French for “the square” or “straightforward,” but it can also signify “a whimsically tied fabric that hides an unsightly chair” (Beene 146). 3According to Derrida, aporia is “the difficult or the impracticable […] passage which can in fact be something else […] which no longer has the form of the movement that consist in passing; the ‘coming to pass’” (Derrida, Aporias 8). 4 The cold is a reference to the place where spies operate. In particular, it refers to working behind enemy lines or in places where their life is at risk or operational outcomes are be compromised.
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John le Carré was an active intelligence officer during the Cold War and utilizes The Spy Who Came in From the Cold to loosely narrate his rather negative experiences while in the service.5 Therefore, the novel marks “the last book of his period of innocence” (Le Carré, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold ix)6. As with The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, in his other novels, Le Carré attempts to vindicate his characters’ morals and deem their actions as necessary in order to preserve peace. As an author, he also attempts to justify the morals of his characters in order to create an identity for each one, and at times, exonerates their actions in an effort to depict their flaws as consequences of espionage, and not as character flaws. Ultimately, every protagonist Le Carré creates – Alec Leamas in “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” George Smiley in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” and Andy Osnard in “The Tailor of Panama” – cannot exist outside of espionage as regular citizens.
As individuals, the characters have their own sets of problems and personal demons to confront. Each has failure in his personal past or the death of another intelligence agent under his supervision. In the three novels, the main character finds himself at the end of his service, or on the “shelf,” struggling to reconstruct his identity and individuality. However, the characters are ultimately recalled into the intelligence service in order to complete one last mission that will allow them the opportunity to cement their patriotism and salvage legacy within the British intelligence agency.
5 Le Carré’s detailed participation in the British intelligence service remains a mystery. His autobiography only mentions his involvement in the service as an analyst and support personnel. There is no mention of him being an actual spy, and neither Le Carré nor his biographer confirm or deny his role in the service (Cobbs 7). 6 Prior to The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Le Carré wrote “inside the walls of the secret world, under another name, and free of serious critical attention. Once this book hit the stands, my time of quiet and gradual development was over for good” (Le Carré, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold ix).
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Oftentimes, spies are recalled under the pretense of preserving peace, the integrity of the institution, or to prevent international chaos. However, a spy’s final mission often isolates him further isolated from society, revisiting past errors, or gets killed in their last effort in trying to attain redemption for their past mistakes. Based on personal experience, as Le Carré points out, the difficulties for spies lie in the challenging nature of their work. “I know I was deeply unhappy in my professional life, and that I was enduring the extremes of loneliness and personal confusion” (Le Carré, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, xi).
Having been an intelligence officer, John le Carré uses writing to depict a truthful and inglorious vision of espionage. He creates scenarios based on historical conflicts that challenge the accepted notion of Western democracy and the spread of Communism across Russia and Eastern Europe. In his novels, the characters live in a gray world instead of the clear, black and white world of other notable spies in literature, especially James Bond. Characters such as Bond are normally depicted through archetypal qualities and primarily function to draw the audience into an idealistic reality which showcases the fantastic possibilities of espionage. Bond, especially, is a character driven by deep patriotic purpose clearly understood by the audience.7 Unlike the characters created by Le Carré, Bond embraces the glory and romanticism of espionage. He stands out from the crowd and avoids prolonging his stay in the ‘cold’ environment, the debilitating habits, and the pathetic characters washed out by the profession. Bond also provides a glimpse, albeit idealistic, and a romantic view into a world of secrets and dealings that often
7 James Bond follows the archetypal model of the traditional hero. The audience welcomed him and expects him to succeed in his labors regardless of the condition, conflicts, or enemies he may encounter throughout his journey.
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Alienated Selfhood and Heroism: A Poststructuralist Reading