What are three ways suspense is created in Lather and Nothing Else by Hernando Tellez? How?

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boomer-sooner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hernando Tellez builds wonderful suspense in his short story Lather and Nothing Else (also translated as Just Lather, That's All).  The story is written from the perspective of a barber who is secretly part of a rebellion against the government.  Captain Torres, the villain in the story, is a hard driving, cruel dictator of the local militia and terrorizes the town.  Entering the shop Torres sits down for a shave, placing the barber in a difficult situation.  He could easily kill the captain, but the barber also has his pride and life to consider.

The suspense begins within the first few lines of the story.  As Captain Torres enters the shop, the narrator states that he begins to tremble from the sight.  This draws the reader into the story and hints at the danger later revealed.  The ambiguity of the appearance of Torres and the setting allows the reader to build their own creation for the scene.  The only description first given for the captain is how he hangs his gun belt.  The focus on danger and the guns provides hints as to the monstrosity of the man.

The main focus of suspense begins after Torres is resting in the chair awaiting his shave.  The barber begins the steps to shave the beard but an internal struggle rages within him.  As a rebel he has some duty to aide in the rebellion, yet as a barber the customer came to him in confidence and there is a duty to perform his best services.  The barber goes back and forth in an internal dialogue while questioning the captain about his plans on punishing captured rebels.  The question quickly becomes will the barber murder Torres?

The author allows the suspense to build by limiting the information about the rebellion.  In the greater context it's hard to know if the government represented by Captain Torres is right, or if the rebellion is a worthy opposition to a tyrant.  This gives the reader the opportunity to impart their own feelings into the story and onto the characters.  Rather than give the backstory for each, the author has allowed the characters to be different for different people.  The other ploy Tellez uses is the use of the internal dialogue to envision the murder, but also analyze the repercussions of it.

The final suspense in the story comes in the last few paragraphs.  Captain Torres leaves the chair and puts his gun belt back on.  The barber admits to being pale and says that his shirt is soaked with sweat, a clue to his rebellious convictions.  In the doorway Captain Torres pauses and turns to speak to the barber.  The final words show that Torres knew all along the barber might kill him, but also that killing a man wasn't as easy as it might seem. 

The cliffhanger style ending is a great tool for leaving the reader in suspense.  Although the true nature of the barber is revealed, the last lines gives hint that Captain Torres is not entirely understood.  He trusted the barber despite his allegiance to the rebellion and shows guilt over killing.  This causes the reader to pause and may cause them re-evaluate their position on the character.  By leaving the ending in this manner, Tellez has left the reader wondering what will happen next for the barber and Captain Torres.

Read the study guide:
Just Lather, That's All

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