Just Lather, That's All Summary
Hernando Tellez's "Just Lather, That's All" takes the form of a monologue delivered by the short story's narrator, the proprietor of a barbershop.
Captain Torres comes into the barbershop, asking for a shave. He's a violent man who has often made a show of rounding up and killing rebels.
The barber is an informant for the rebels and shows a keen interest in the Captain's recent capture of many of the barber's compatriots.
- The barber considers slitting Captain Torres's throat. In the end, he decides that he doesn't want blood on his hands.
Last Updated on August 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 365
At the beginning of the story, the barber—who narrates the tale—is trembling as he recognizes the man who walks into his shop. Captain Torres is a dangerous, violent man who is the embodiment of everything the narrator is against; as a matter of fact, the narrator is working with rebels who are seeking to depose Captain Torres. The captain asks for a shave, and the narrator prepares to give him one.
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Much of the story focuses on the barber's internal struggle. He could easily cut Captain Torres's throat: there is no one else in the shop, and the captain is defenseless with his neck exposed. He is an evil man who has done a great deal of harm, so killing him might be the greater good. However, doing so would also make the barber a murderer. He doesn't believe that he is a murderer, and he doesn't want blood on his hands.
Captain Torres brags about having tracked down fourteen rebels, none of whom he allowed to live. The barber thinks Captain Torres believes that the barber agrees with him and is sympathetic to his tale. The captain doesn't hesitate to tell the barber his thoughts or to relate his and his men's actions against the rebels. The barber thinks back on a recent event when Captain Torres ordered a group of rebels hanged and then had his men do target practice on specific areas of their bodies.
The barber's identity as a rebel is known to only a few because it allows him to continue to live in town and inform on Captain Torres and his men. He thinks about this as he shaves the captain's face and sees a little blood come from a small nick. He thinks about the number of rebels the captain has killed; he thinks about his own pride in his barbering. He knows that he isn't a man who would commit murder.
As Captain Torres leaves, he tells the barber that his men told him the barber would murder him; he came to get a shave to find out whether that was true. He tells the barber that killing isn't easy before he exits the shop.
Last Updated on September 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 484
In a barbershop in a small Colombian town, the proprietor, the narrator of the story, is shaving a man. This is no typical customer, however; the barber recounts that he began to tremble when he recognized him. The barber’s detailed description of Captain Torres hanging up his military cap, bullet belt, and holster highlights the man’s authority and his potential for violence. During the course of the shave, the two men engage in brief but revealing dialogue. The captain has just returned from capturing a band of revolutionaries and takes pride in his success on a difficult mission. The barber encourages Torres to give details on the number of men apprehended and their fate, because he is a clandestine member of that faction. To add to the barber’s anxiety, Torres asks for acknowledgment of his treatment of revolutionaries. His brutality is confirmed when he reminds the barber of the previous week’s event when he summoned the town to view target practice on the bodies of hanged rebels.
The barber’s monologue reveals the moral dilemma that he faces while shaving the captain. On one hand, he is an informant for the revolutionary party and has the opportunity to kill his enemy. Allowing the man to leave unharmed would compromise the barber’s credibility as a rebel. Given his expertise with a blade, the barber contemplates how easy it would be to slit Torres’s throat while he reclines, with his eyes closed, and his face covered with lather. Killing the captain would mean avenging the death of many of his comrades and perhaps even saving those recently captured. Fate has presented him with a rare opportunity to become a hero.
On the other hand, the barber considers that killing under such circumstances not only could be interpreted as a cowardly act, but also would make him as much a criminal as Torres. “Murderer or hero?” the protagonist asks himself. He realizes that the crime would eventually lead to his capture and execution. The barber also reflects on the result of revolutionary armed conflict. Although he recognizes Torres’s inhumanity, murdering him would contribute one more link to a never-ending chain of violence. “Others come along and still others,” the rebel in barber’s gown thinks to himself, “and the first ones kill the second ones, and they the next ones and it goes on like this until everything is a sea of blood.”
He finishes the shave and must determine what to do before the captain rises from the chair. The story’s climax is reached with the barber’s decision. “I don’t want blood on my hands,” he says to himself, “Just lather, that’s all.” As Torres leaves the barbershop he says, “They told me that you’d kill me. I came to find out. But killing isn’t easy. You can take my word for it.”