What is the plot and the theme of "Haircut" by Ring Lardner?

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beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ring Lardner develops the theme and plot of “Haircut” through a conversation between the town barber, Whitey, and an unnamed customer. The barber is an uneducated gossip who shows respect to the wrong people. Whitey’s discourse focuses on the escapades of Jim Kendall, the cruel town jokester. Jim’s sole purpose in life seems to be playing sad, cruel pranks on the townsfolk and his own family. As the barber says, Jim’s wife would have divorced him for his transgressions if she could have supported her family. Paul Dickson was often privy to or the butt of Jim’s jokes. As a child Paul fell out of a tree and hit his head which left him with mental disabilities. Paul was infatuated with Julie Gregg, a young woman who lived in the town. Jim Kendall decided he wanted Julie but his advances were rebuffed on a number of levels. Ultimately, he embarrassed Julie, which angered Paul. Jim’s treatment of Julie and Paul may have led to his demise when Paul “accidentally” shoots him to death on a duck-hunting trip. The theme that comes through the story is that cruelty is only tolerated for so long before the tables are turned.