Just Lather That's All Theme

What is the theme of the short story "Just Lather, That's All"?

The theme of the short story "Just Lather, That's All" is a man's choice of his own moral identity. The barber decides over the length of the story what his values are and what type of man he is.

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The overriding theme of "Just Lather, That's All" is that man is ultimately responsible for his own actions. Although we might often think that we're nothing more than the plaything of irresistible forces beyond our control, in actual fact, we are very much the authors of our own destiny, exercising moral choices at every stage of our lives.

This point is perfectly illustrated by the character of the barber in the story. He may have found himself in a difficult situation, yet he still has the ability to determine his own future. He can cut Captain Torres's throat, which, though it would remove an evil, violent man from the world, would constitute a clear act of murder. Or, he can refrain from killing Torres, a decision he might come to regret in due course.

Either way, the choice is the barber's, and no one else's. Like everyone else in the world, he has to make his own moral choices; no one else can make them for him. When it comes to making such choices, we are effectively all alone in the world. And whatever choices we eventually make, we ultimately have to live with the consequences, as is the case with the barber.

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"Just Lather, That's All" presents an existentialist drama of the type explored at length in the plays of Henrik Ibsen compressed into a few pages. The barber has the chance to become a revolutionary hero by killing Captain Torres. He wrestles with his conscience over this opportunity, then decides not to take it. The Captain's final remark, though it provides a neat twist with which to end the story, does not alter any essential aspect of the barber's decision, though it does throw into sharp relief the two very different types of men with whom the story deals.

Captain Torres is a hero and a villain. The barber recognizes that to be a hero to one side is to be a villain to the other. He knows that if he slits Torres's throat while shaving him, he will be denounced as a coward by some, while others would praise him as "The avenger of us all. A name to remember."

In the end, he decides that he will not be a hero or a villain, but a simple barber, who did his work honestly when a man came to him for a shave. The theme of the story is the barber's struggle with his own identity and his final choice of the type of man he wants to be. Though he is not a hero of the revolution, the reader may find some heroism in the simple, honest values by which the barber chooses to define himself.

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One of the themes explored throughout Hernando Téllez's short story "Just Lather, That's All" concerns destiny. As the barber is shaving the captain's beard, he wrestles with the decision to slice his throat or continue shaving. The barber begins to think about his future if he were to kill Captain Torres and contemplates how he would have to flee to somewhere far away. The barber knows that he would be chased and viewed as a coward by his opponents. However, the revolutionaries would view him as a hero and avenger. His fate rests on his decision, and he comments,

"My destiny depends on the edge of this blade" (Téllez 3).

Captain Torres also puts his destiny in the hands of the barber. He risks his life by allowing a revolutionary the opportunity to kill him. However, the barber decides to spare the captain's life and risks being called a coward by his fellow revolutionaries. The barber chose to maintain his integrity and resist temptation. By controlling his emotions, he was able to make a decision which did not drastically change his life in the way that murdering Torres would have. 

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I would go for Humanity vs. Inhumanity because, at that precise moment where both men are together at the barber shop and the Captain is telling the barber, who is an informant, all about what is going on in the guerillas, the two men are at level with each other in terms of deciding morally what is the fate of another human being under the circumstances.

So, that precise second where the barber contemplates slicing this inhuman monster, his own humanity was put to the test and so the two oppositional forces of the characters bring out the theme of the story, which is that the battle of humanity vs. inhumanity of war is the causative factor of the entire conflict.

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In my opinion, the theme here (in the way you are describing theme) is the meaning of bravery.  I think the story is about what it means to be brave as opposed to what it means to be sensible.  I think the story encourages you to think about which is better.  I think this qualifies as something that makes sense even outside this particular story.

In the story, the barber has to decide whether it is better to be brave (kill the guy he is shaving) or to be sensible.  It is not really clear whether he makes the right choice -- it's up to us to decide.

I hope that is the sort of thing you're thinking of...


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