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Last Reviewed on August 20, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 340

"Just Lather, That's All" is a short story written by Columbian journalist and writer Hernando Téllez. It is a commentary on the cycle of violence that characterized Columbian society at the time and the way in which the country was often thrown into civil wars that resulted in violence against civilians.

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The story that Téllez tells uses an economy of words and a spare style. It is deceptively simple and concentrates on the act of the barber shaving a military man, Captain Torres, who has executed rebels. But the implications of this simple act of shaving a man are much greater and more significant. As the barber shaves the captain, he considers, in the form of a monologue, whether he should kill the man in front of him. The story is an account of his considerations of what he should do and whether violence carried out to stop violence is justified. The story is about larger moral issues. The barber poses the question of whether he should kill a man who he knows has killed others and will go on to kill more.

In the end, the barber decides not to kill Captain Torres. He hopes to end the violence that has plagued his nation by choosing not to perpetuate that violence himself.

The author uses the symbol of a single pore to represent the preciousness and fragility of life. As the barber shaves, he notices that a single pore can pour forth a "pearl of blood." The barber's role is to protect each pore and to prevent it from shedding blood. In contrast to the military captain's disregard for the lives of those he kills, the barber recognizes the preciousness of each drop of blood. The razor that the barber uses can be used to help others (to give them a good shave) or to kill. It is a double-edged sword and a symbol of the way in which life can be turned toward violence or toward nurturing. The barber uses the razor only for peaceful purposes.

Style and Technique

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Last Updated on September 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 433

Téllez’s writing is distinctive for its economy of words. Descriptions and explanations are kept to a minimum, and superfluous adjectives are eliminated. Suppressing information is a technique used to hold the reader’s attention. For example, the remarkably short opening sentences establish several unknowns: Who came in? Where is he? Why does he inspire fear? Who is sharpening a blade, and why? As one reads on, some questions are answered as new ones emerge.

The conversation between Torres and the barber consists of scant, but key, facts. The reader must play close attention not to miss any important clue. After building interest with just enough information about the two characters, the author introduces suspense as another technique to hold the reader’s attention. At first, only limited knowledge is granted. Then an abundance of detail is supplied, thus suggesting its importance to the plot. For example, minute focus on the captain’s hair growth and texture, his cheeks, chin, neck, the consistency of the lather, and even the angle of the blade as it is maneuvered over the customer’s face creates expectations in the reader.

Throughout the narration, the barber reiterates just how good he is with a razor while he reminds himself of this customer’s crimes. The reader is thus convinced of both the barber’s ability and motive to kill Torres. “And how easy it would be to kill him,” thinks the barber, “he deserves it.” The barber also repeatedly expresses ambivalence, highlighted by his fear, nervousness, and profuse sweating. The following sequence illustrates the protagonist’s wavering, which keeps the reader in suspense: “I could cut this throat just so, zip! zip! . . . But I’m trembling like a real murderer. . . . I’m sure that one solid stroke, one deep incision, would prevent any pain. . . . But what would I do with the body?” This inscription of self-doubt keeps the reader guessing and interested in the resolution. Another ingredient that maintains suspense in the story is the race against the clock. Considering his skill at shaving, it should not take the barber long to finish his task.

The surprise ending is another technique that prevents the plot’s intrigue from dissolving. The ending paradoxically eliminates the possibility of an end to the story. There is no closure to the situation, as there seems to be no end to the violence in Colombia. As if coming full circle, the captain’s exit from the barbershop arouses as many questions for the reader, and as much fear for the barber, as does his arrival at the beginning of the story.

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