Just Lather, That's All

by Hernando Téllez

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In "Just Lather, That's All," who is Captain Torres?

Quick answer:

Captain Torres represents military dictatorship.

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Tellez set his compelling story in Latin America during a period of numerous military dictatorships that were opposed by rebel groups. Civil war plagued Latin America at this time, and individuals and families were often split between the power of military regimes and rebel groups who had popular support and needed aid and assistance in order to fight the military forces. Captain Torres in this story is the commander of the military forces, and the barber, as the reader comes to realise, is a rebel sympathiser. Note what the barber tells us about Captain Torres:

The day he ordered the whole town to file into the patio of the school to see the four rebels hanging there, I came face to face with him for an instant. But the sight of the mutilated bodies kept me from noticing the face of the man who had directed it all, the face I was now about to take into my hands. It was not an unpleasant face, certainly. And the beard, which made him seem a bit older than he was, didn't suit him badly at all. His name was Torres. Captain Torres. A man of imagination, because who else would have thought of hanging the naked rebels and then holding target practice on certain parts of their bodies?

Captain Torres is therefore a man who is a killer and uses the tactics of fear, terror and torture in order to maintain power and to dissaude others from rebelling against him. The reference to how he killed the four rebels shows how ruthless he is and also hints at the fate of anybody caught trying to oppose him. The story thus presents him as a man who is perfectly willing to kill, maim or torture in any way to sustain and keep power. This of course heightens the dilemma of the barber, as he has the perfect opportunity to kill him whilst giving him a shave.

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In Just Lather, That's All, what does Captain Torres represent? 

Tellez based his tale very firmly in South America in the latter half of the 20th century, which faced various military dictatorships that were met with rebel uprisings. One of the reasons this story is so effective is that Tellez presents us with one character who is a representative of the military junta, which is clearly Captain Torres, and another who is a representative of the rebels, who is the barber that narrates the story to the reader. From the moment that he enters the barber's shop, it is clear that Torres is meant to represent military dictatorship that crushes all opposition in its wake. Consider his initial description:

At that moment be took off the bullet-studded belt that his gun holster dangled from. He hung it up on a wall hook and placed his military cap over it. Then be turned to me, loosening the knot of his tie, and said, "It's hot as hell. Give me a shave." He sat in the chair.

Whether it is the "bullet-studden belt," the "military cap" or the imperious way he demands a shave, it is clear that Torres is a force to be reckoned with, and as the text continues, this impression is only confirmed as he tells the barber of his plans to torture the rebels that he caught on his latest excursion in public view. This effectively identifies the way in which Torres is symbolic of military power that so unflinchingly crushes any opposition expressed towards it.

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