Just Lather, That's All

by Hernando Téllez

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What are two of the barber's character traits in "Just Lather, That's All"?

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The barber, who is clearly on the opposing side of his client's faction could easily harm this man who plans to kill all the “rebels” with whom the barber sympathizes. The barber looks calm and professional throughout most of the encounter, choosing to glean intelligence from his customer instead. Based on these actions, we can conclude that the barber is good at appearing dispassionate, is professional to the core, and is a tactical conversationalist and observer.

Several lines from this story support my opinions regarding the barber. First and foremost, is the line where the barber admits, “Torres did not know that I was his enemy.” In spite of having an enemy as his customer, the barber remains professional and gives this customer a first-class shave while conversing with him. Secondly, aside from a slight trembling of his hand, he remains calm while discussing Torres' plans to mutilate some of the barber's revolutionary counterparts:

“Do you plan to punish them all?" "All." The soap was drying on his face. I had to hurry . . . There, for sure, the razor had to be handled masterfully, since the hair, although softer, grew into little swirls. One of the tiny pores could be opened up and issue forth its pearl of blood. A good barber such as I prides himself on never allowing this to happen to a client . . . How many of us had he ordered mutilated?

Only when Torres is done with his shave does he admit to the barber that he thought he might not leave his shop alive. The dialogue that the barber has with himself about whether to murder Torres or not has been ours to see alone. During the entire encounter, his nervousness and his inner conflict with Torres as a client is not revealed to Torres. But almost as a taunt to the barber Torres states hypocritically, “But killing isn't easy. You can take my word for it.”

In the end, the barber decided for himself to protect his career as a barber, by not hurting Torres. The barber also has the viewpoint that he is not a murderer although his fellow revolutionaries would undoubtedly see him as a hero for killing Torres. The opportunity to harm his enemy stared him in the face, but he thought better of it without realizing that Torres was aware from the beginning of the barber's status as a revolutionary.

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In "Just Lather, That's All," the barber has a number of prominent character traits. Here are two of them:

  1. The barber is proud of his work and strives for perfection. He calls himself a "conscientious barber," and is skilled enough at his job that he recognizes that the Captain has four days' worth of hair growth. He also handles the razor skillfully so that he never spills any of his client's blood. Furthermore, even in the midst of his murderous dilemma, he thinks about his reputation as the "best" barber in the town.
  2. The barber also has a strong sense of morality and aversion to violence. Even though he is presented with the perfect opportunity to kill his enemy, the Captain, he cannot bring himself to do it. For the barber, murder is not part of being a "revolutionary" because he realizes that violence will not solve political problems but will, in fact, exacerbate them:

"Others come along and still others, and the first ones kill the second ones and they the next ones and it goes on like this until everything is a sea of blood."

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