Just Lather, That's All

by Hernando Téllez
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What is the central conflict of "Just Lather, That's All"? Is it external or internal? Is it a dilemma?

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The internal struggle of the barber in "Just Lather, That's All " by Téllez is the story's central conflict. The barber narrates his struggle making an important decision: should he kill his present customer, Captain Torres, for the captain's crimes against the barber's rebel faction (and become a hero),...

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The internal struggle of the barber in "Just Lather, That's All" by Téllez is the story's central conflict. The barber narrates his struggle making an important decision: should he kill his present customer, Captain Torres, for the captain's crimes against the barber's rebel faction (and become a hero), or should he let Torres live so that he can maintain his professional dignity and avoid the lifetime of difficulty that comes with being a known murderer? He is faced with a true dilemma, since both of these outcomes will bring both desirable and undesirable outcomes.

The barber understands that leaving Captain Torres alive will create danger for the barber's friends and fellow rebels. Torres has already killed many of the rebels in horrifying public displays in the barber's village. As he shaves the Captain's face, the barber wonders, "How many of us had he ordered shot? How many of us had he ordered mutilated?" The knowledge of all the atrocities that will come if he leaves Captain Torres alive makes his decision difficult.

But equally important to the barber is his ability to provide a skilled shave to his customers. He feels a responsibility to do his best work, and readers see this when he says, "Yes, I was secretly a rebel, but I was also a conscientious barber, and proud of the preciseness of my profession." As he shaves Torres's face, he makes sure to clean and sharpen the blade frequently to do his job well, telling the reader, "I'm a barber who does things properly." To shirk his duties as a professional would also cause the barber a great deal of distress.

The barber's internal conflict is heightened by the fact that any decision he makes will come with additional repercussions. Killing the Captain will make the barber a murderer in the eyes of some villagers and a hero in the eyes of others. Slitting Torres' throat will also weigh heavy on the barber's own heart. "No one deserves to have someone else make the sacrifice of becoming a murderer," he laments. And then there's the issue of clean up: "But what would I do with the body? Where would I hide it?" the barber wonders.

Letting Torres live will create difficulty for the barber as well. "It was likely that many of our faction had seen him enter," the barber says, which suggests that the barber will have to answer to his friends if he lets the Captain live. Torres will continue killing the rebels if left alive.

The barber's internal conflict is primary to the story, but it is important to understand that it is created by the external reality of armed conflict between the Captain's army and the rebel troops.

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The central conflict in the short story, "Just Lather, That's All" is most definitely internal as the barber struggles with two options: to kill Captain Torres for the horrible crimes he has committed or to give him a shave.

The barber belongs to a group of rebels, and the Captain's mission is to destroy those rebels. However, the barber also prides himself on his skill as a barber: "I was secretly a rebel, but I was also a conscientious barber, and proud of the preciseness of my profession" (paragraph 10). This scenario sets up the barber's internal conflict. What is more important, being a rebel or being a barber?

The barber's internal conflict increases during the story as he actually can envision cutting Torres's throat. However, ironically, instead of cutting his throat, "Under the stroke of my razor Torres was being rejuvenated" (para 12). The shave appears to give Torres a youthful appearance—life.

At the end of the story, the barber considers the moral consequences of killing the Captain. Would he be considered a hero or a murderer? Even though Torres is an executioner, the barber decides he cannot murder him, and in this way decides to give Torres just lather . . . that's all. The barber's internal conflict is resolved.

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In "Just Lather, That's All," the central conflict is internal because it involves the barber and his dilemma over whether to kill Captain Torres. On the one hand, he wants to kill the Captain because he is a violent and brutish man. For example, the Captain describes the public hanging of four men as a "fine show." Moreover, the barber and the Captain are members of two opposing factions and, for the barber, this is a rare opportunity to kill his enemy.

On the other hand, though, the barber has no such thirst for violence. In fact, he is opposed to the very idea of committing murder:

"No one deserves to have someone else make the sacrifice of becoming a murderer."

While the barber eventually decides against killing the Captain, it is this internal dilemma which drives the plot of the story.

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