Just Lather, That's All

by Hernando Téllez
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At the end of "Just Lather, That's All" by Hernando Tellez, Torres says to the barber, "Killing isn't easy. You can take my word for it." Does this statement in any way change your opinion of the captain? What do you think he means by this comment? Does it suggest that he might have some redeeming qualities, or does it reveal something else about him?

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In this story, we have a hard-hearted, sadistic man – Captain Torres, who roots out and destroys political rebels.  He has come to get a shave – and the barber, who is also the narrator, is part of the rebel forces.  He is tortured as he shaves Torres; tortured with his own indecision.  He has an enemy leader in his hands, voluntarily giving himself up to his blade – he could kill him and rid the village of a man who amuses himself with hanging rebels before the schoolhouse and mutilating their bodies.  But, the barber says, “I’m a revolutionary, and not a murderer.”  He is completely distracted by the potential logistics of killing a man, hiding the body, going into hiding himself…and all for what, he muses?  There will be someone else to take Torres’s place, and then they would be right back to where they started.  Throughout the entire story we operate under the assumption that the barber and Torres are polar opposites – one man redeemable, the other contemptibly inhumane.

If you consider Torres’s words at the door of the barbershop in full:  “They told me that you’d kill me.  I came to find out.  But killing isn’t easy.  You can take my word for it;” you can get a lot of information about the captain hinting that the opposite is true.  First, this suggests that despite the casual attitude with which the captain kills and makes an example of the rebels he rounds up, he does not find the practice to be easy.  That is, he is not a natural-born killer with a talent for torture.  We can assume that there are many emotions that he has had to suppress in order to do his job.  The very same emotions and mental conflicts, perhaps, that the barber underwent himself.  And yet Torres most likely did not have the luxury of deciding for himself whether to kill or not – he is a captain; there are others more highly ranked who give him his orders.  His actions are evil, yes, and inexcusable – and yet perhaps the man himself was only as evil as the barber, once. 

In addition, we learn that Torres is not only, as he is described, “calm,” but also brave, and has a strategic mind.  The fact that he came to the barber to be shaved, for the sole reason to discover if the barber truly would kill him or not, as they said, is testament to this.  So although he is cold-blooded, he does have some positive qualities that earn him his rank.  If he were on the barber’s side, the latter would most likely consider him an asset.  But as it happens, they are fighting for different ideals, and he remains a threat.  What is remarkable here is that Tellez has given us insight and opened up an entire channel of viable speculation about this character Torres with a single line of dialogue.  And while the reader will still most likely sympathize with the barber at the end of the story, he or she will also feel they understand a bit more that the psychologies of the friend and the foe aren’t necessarily as different as each would like to believe.

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