Explain the significance of irony in Hernando Téllez's "Just Lather, That's All."

lit24 | Student

It is the ironic twist at the end which is responsible for the enduring interest in this story.


Shaving with a long  open razor blade is a highly skilled job  requiring intense concentration: "taking pains to see that no single pore emitted a drop of blood." After lathering  his customer's beard with soap, the barber  begins to shave the beard with the sharpened razor. As the soap lather and the shaven hair collect on the long razor blade the barber will often pause and remove the lather  by stroking the razor on his own bare forearm and will continue shaving. If he pauses every now and then to wash the razor he will take a longer time and more importantly he will lose his concentration.

Although, the narrator-barber is "secretly a rebel, he was also a conscientious barber, proud of the preciseness of his profession."  So, the dilemma he faces now is whether to slit Captain Torres' throat or to give him a clean shave without nicking his skin. After quite a struggle within his mind he decides :"I don't want blood on my hands. Just lather that's all."

He puns on the word "blood" to ironically emphasise the fact that "he is a good barber. The best in town." Blood could either mean the blood when he nicks Torres's skin and collects it alongwith the lather on his forearm in which case he would not be regarded as an expert barber or the blood if he murders Torres by slitting his neck, in which case he would be branded a murderer.

The narrator is keen to be known only as an expert barber-only lather on his hands.

The reader is impressed and deeply moved by the magnanimity and the sense of honor displayed by the narrator.

mkcapen1 | Student

Hernando Téllez's "Just Lather" is a suspenseful story.  It is a type of cat and mouse game played out by the barber and in the end the reader finds out that the executioner was also playing the same game with the barber.  The irony in the story is that the entire time the barber has his enemy in his barber chair the barber's life is in danger.  The barber believes that the man has no idea that he is a revolutionary.  He painstakingly tries to determine if he should kill the man.  He does not realize that he is being challenged by the man to see if he will try and kill him.  The man in the end reveals that the reason he has to come to this barber is to see if he will try and kill him.  This is the irony in the story.  There is also irony in that the barber assumes that the man finds killing easy but in the end it is the man who explains to the barber that killing is not something easily done.

The symbolism is the story is the statement that the barber makes throughout the story

"I am a barber who does things properly."

The barber keeps repeating this statement in various exerts in the story.  He uses this to show that he is a barber and not something else.  His profession is indicative that he is not a murderer but one who takes pride in his work.  The reader has to wonder if he will change hisprofession and become a murder in the end of the story.  Even the title is a symbol to represent his the mental guidance that the barber must give himself to remain on the task of his profession.

Good and evil are also represented in the story between the barber and the man.  The exchange by the narrator, telling about the barber, enhances his goodness.  While his description of the actions of the man define him as evil. 

The use of irony and symbolism helps to increase the tension in the story as the reader glides through the barber's thoughts.

Read the study guide:
Just Lather, That's All

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