What is the central conflict in "Just Lather, That's All"?

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The central conflict in "Just Lather, That's All" is whether or not the barber will slit the throat of the notorious Captain Torres as he sits defenseless getting a shave. Ultimately, the barber shows that, despite his support for the rebels who are engaging in armed conflict with Captain Torres, he doesn't want blood on his hands.

As he struggles with this decision, he makes note of the fact that murdering a client would ruin his reputation as a barber. This is a very odd comment. If it was discovered that he had murdered the captain, which would be likely, than he would likely be executed for it, if he did not go into hiding. There is no realistic version of the future in which it would be unknown that he had killed Captain Torres and in which he would continue working as a barber.

What this suggests is that it is not so much a realistic version of the future than causes him to hold back from murder but an attachment to his identity as a barber. Although he supports the rebels and is, in theory, one of them, he is attached to an identity of not being a "murderer." Here, his internal dialogue is somewhat contradictory. While he claims that he opposes all violence and views it as a never ending cycles, he also supports a violent rebel group. This suggests that his positions are not based on a well thought-out ethics but rather that he supports the rebels because he knows Torres is evil and comes up with a justification for not killing Torres because of his self-image as a non-murderer.

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In "Just Lather, That's All," the central conflict involves the barber's dilemma over whether or not he should kill Captain Torres. From a logical perspective, the barber believes that Captain Torres deserves to die because of the extreme violence he has demonstrated against members of the barber's rebel group. However, in the barber's opinion, murder is wrong, no matter what the circumstances, because it only serves to prolong the violence:

What do you gain by it? Nothing. 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.

Moreover, the barber prides himself on being excellent at his job and well-respected in his community. If he killed Captain Torres then his reputation would be in tatters because he used his razor, the symbol of his profession, against a defenseless client.

In the end, the barber resolves the conflict by deciding not to kill the Captain. In a final ironic twist, however, the Captain reveals that he came for a shave for precisely that reason. He heard a rumor that the barber wanted to kill him so he came to see if he would go through with it. Moreover, he shatters the barber's perception with his final words: "killing isn't easy."

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The primary conflict in Hernando Tellez' short story, "Just Lather, That's All," deals with the barber's indecisiveness about whether he should kill Captain Torres. Torres is the hunter of Colombian rebels, a ruthless man who tortures and kills the men he captures. The barber turns out to be a rebel sympathizer--a spy who has kept his non-professional identity hidden. When Torres appears in the barber shop for a shave, the barber is faced with a decision: Does he give the man a shave, honoring the duty of his profession by carefully fulfilling the task without spilling a drop of blood; or does he cut the Captain's throat, ridding the rebels of their greatest adversary? In the end, the barber weighs his options and decides to give the man the shave to which he is entitled. Only as the man walks out of his shop does he realize that Torres suspects him of being a rebel, and that he has literally put his neck on the line to test the man's resolve.

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