Just Lather, That's All

by Hernando Téllez

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How does the final paragraph of "Just Lather, That's All" alter the reader's interpretation of the story?

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The last paragraph is significant because it reveals Captain Torres's true nature. Until this moment, our perspective of the captain has been colored by the barber's inner dialogue.

According to the barber, the captain is a fearful enemy. Captain Torres is blood-thirsty, merciless, and relentless in his quest to hunt down and kill all rebels.

The barber admits that the presence of Captain Torres in his shop has unnerved him. He tries to make small talk, but the conversation does little to settle his nerves.

Intrinsically, the barber feels that it's his responsibility to kill the captain, as the latter is completely in his power. In the end, however, he decides against behaving in such a dishonorable fashion.

He is surprised when the captain acknowledges his inner conflict. Captain Torres's words show that the barber has completely misinterpreted his client's character. For his part, Captain Torres is far from ignorant of the barber's role as a secret rebel.

So, why does Captain Torres put himself in the barber's power? We may speculate that he does so to accomplish two important purposes. First, it's one way to let the rebels (the barber included) know that the army has greater intelligence regarding their movements than previously suspected. According to Sun Tzu, the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. Here, Captain Torres reminds the barber that he is a formidable adversary.

Second, the barber exhibited honor by showing an unwillingness to commit a cowardly act. In response, Captain Torres acknowledges the barber's honorable conduct and, by extension, their shared humanity. By doing so, Captain Torres shows that he is more than a bloodthirsty, merciless fighter.

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Up to the last paragraph of the story, the reader is likely to have a very distinctive impression of the Captain. He has a taste for violence, and appears to enjoy his job. This is shown most clearly when he refers to the hanging of four rebels as a "fine show."

In the final paragraph of the story, however, it is revealed that the Captain came to the shop because he heard the barber wants to kill him. He then announces that "killing isn't easy" and that the barber can take "his word for it."

This completely changes our interpretation of the story because it contradicts this initial view of the Captain as a violent man with a thirst for murder. Instead, it suggests that the Captain has a sense of morality and struggles to live with the crimes he has committed as part of his military role.

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