What is the plot of the "Haircut" short story by Ring Lardner?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In literature, the plot revolves around the conflict and the complications that--well--complicate the conflict. So when you ask, "What is the plot?" you are really asking about what the conflict is and how it develops to its resolution. In "Haircut," the town barber, Whitey, tells the town gossip to a silent and unnamed newcomer who sits quietly in Whitey's barber chair and listens. The plot and conflict therefore are embedded in the narrative Whitey tells and involves the townspeople Whitey talks about: it does not primarily involve Whitey or his mystery listener, though Whitey is there once or twice as a witness of events.

Much of Whitey's narrative gives background and examples of the central character's behavior. It soon comes clear that Jim is the central character and the antagonist (the antagonist predominates the story in a stylistic reversal such as Milton used in Paradise Lost). The conflict Jim is involved in is Human against Human as we learn about the horrible things Jim does to others.

[Jim] didn't have no intentions of bein' there [at the circus] or buyin' tickets or nothin'. He got full of gin and laid round ... His wife didn't have a dime with her ... she finally had to tell the kids it was all off and they cried like they wasn't never goin' to stop.

The primary element of the conflict, involving the town heroine and hero, Julie and Doc Stair, turns out to be Jim's failed attempts to romantically involve Julie. This leads to the (1) climax and (2) anticlimax of the plot when (1) Jim forces his way into Julie's house, then, (2) when Doc is away, tricks her into thinking Doc wants to see her. After this, Paul Dickson's anger and Doc's fury signify the falling action that leads to the final resolution of the conflict. This occurs when the gun Paul is holding fires (accidentally or by intent?) and kills Jim. Thus the conflict is ended: Human has won the conflict against Jim's inhumanness.

Doc examined the body and said they might as well fetch it back to town. They was no use leavin' it there or callin' a jury, as it was a plain case of accidental shootin'.