In "Just Lather, That's All," what effect does Captain Torres' remark have on the reader at the end of the story?
Throughout the Hernando Tellez short story, "Just Lather, That's All," the reader is led to believe that the barber's secret--that he is a member of the revolutionaries being sought by Captain Torres--is the key bit of information relative to the story. The barber seems to have the edge over his enemy--as well as the razor which could cut his throat in an instant. But when the shave is finished and the barber has decided to spare his customer, Torres delivers his own secret.
In the doorway he paused for a moment, and turning to me he said:
"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." And he headed on down the street.
Torres has been told of the barber's secret alliance, and he has come to test the barber himself. Does Torres still believe the barber is a rebel? Or, since the barber has not killed him, does Torres believe he has been misinformed? The reader is left to determine this for himself.
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