How are the characters in "Just Lather, That's All" real to life?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Vivid realism defines the two characters in Hernando Tellez's short story, "Just Lather, That's All." Both Captain Torrez and the barber are drawn from real characters in Tellez's native Colombia. Torrez is a ruthless pursuer of rebels who impassively describes their fate to the barber, who is secretly a rebel undercover agent. Torrez has a four-day beard that the barber is requested to remove. The barber hates the man and wants to slit his throat, but he notices a good side to his enemy:

It was not an unpleasant face, certainly. And the beard, which made him seem a bit older than he was, didn't suit him badly at all... A thick, blue beard. He should have let it grow like some poets or priests do. It would suit him well.

In the end, the captain proves he is human: He has offered himself as a sacrifice to uncover the barber's secret. He has not forced the barber's hand, however, and he leaves the barber alive, reminding him that "Killing isn't easy."

The barber shows a wide array of human emotions during his shave. He fluctuates between trembling fear and murderous anger. He shaves the captain carefully

... for sure, the razor had to be handled masterfully, since the hair, although softer, grew into little swirls. A curly beard. One of the tiny pores could be opened up and issue forth its pearl of blood.

He finds the shop hot--he is sweating, and he wonders if Torrez is perspiring as well. He imagines a sea of blood, but he cannot bring himself to kill. In the end, he finishes his shave and receives his payment. Both men will continue their daily regimen: The barber shaving and cutting, and the captain killing.