Just Lather, That's All

by Hernando Téllez
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In "Just Lather, That's All," how does the captain's recollection of the "lesson" he taught the townspeople compare to the barber's?

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In this short story by Hernando Tellez, the barber is a confidential informant for the rebels that people like Captain Torres hunt down, torture, and kill. This creates irony in the conversation that Torres has with the barber when the former enters the latter’s shop asking for a shave.

The other educator response does a good job of explaining the contrasting perspectives of Torres and the barber, so I will turn my discussion to how the ending of the story changes the meaning of this difference.

After listening to the lesson Captain Torres taught the rebels, the barber finishes the shave even though he easily could have killed him. The barber realizes that he does not “want blood on [his] hands.” As Torres leaves, he calmly says, “They told me you’d kill me. I came to find out. But killing isn’t easy. Take my word for it.”

This suggests that Torres’s story of the lesson was merely a performance meant to goad the barber into a violent altercation. In addition to that, it shows that Torres might not enjoy the lesson of killing as much as his earlier story seems to let on. When he says it is not easy, he seems to suggest that murder takes an emotional toll on the murderer. The fact that he lets the barber live despite knowing the barber is a rebel shows that Torres does have a kind of moral code—albeit a different one from that of the the barber.

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In "Just Lather, That's All," the "lesson" refers to the capture and murder of four rebels by the captain and his men. The captain then ordered everyone in the town to go to the school to see the hanging bodies of these rebels.

The barber saw this as a brutal display of the captain's capability for violence. In fact, the barber refers to it as "imaginative" because it of the depravity involved: the rebels were stripped naked, and the captain allowed his men to use certain parts of their bodies for "target practice."

In contrast, Captain Torres looks back on this "lesson" with an apparent fondness and even refers to it as a "fine show." For him, killing the rebels in this way is all part of the lesson because it is designed to act as a deterrent against working with the revolutionaries.

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