Just Lather, That’s All ThemesThe three main themes in “Just Lather, That’s All” are the cycle of violence, inaction versus violence, and the difficulty of inflicting violence.
- The cycle of violence: The barber realizes that killing Captain Torres will not stop the cycle of violence or put an end to the regime that the rebels oppose.
- Inaction versus violence: Although he does consider killing the captain, the barber ultimately chooses not to act on this impulse.
- The difficulty of inflicting violence: The captain tells the barber that “killing isn’t easy,” indicating that he understands the barber’s dilemma.
Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 366
The Cycle of Violence
The barber knows that if he kills Captain Torres, some good might come from it. The captain is a bad person who has been cruel and brutal to the rebels that the barber works with; when he exposes his neck to the barber, he is offering his life to him. He knows the barber might kill him and still gives him the opportunity. However, the barber recognizes that violence is a cycle. The brutality of the regime the rebels are fighting won't stop because Captain Torres dies. He's merely a symptom of a larger problem of oppression and violence. He'll just be replaced by a different man who will murder the rebels and work to suppress their cause.
Inaction Versus Violence
The narrator has to make a personal decision about whether or not he should kill Captain Torres. He doesn't believe the man knows that he works with the rebels; he thinks that it's a coincidence that the captain has entered his shop. As he shaves the man, he thinks about the horrors Captain Torres has perpetuated and about his own skill and pride in his barbering. He thinks that he isn't a person who wants blood on his hands—only lather. The barber struggles with himself but ultimately chooses nonviolence, even though violence might be appealing in light of the captain's cruelty.
The Difficulty of Inflicting Violence
Captain Torres speaks of what he does to the rebels as if it is normal and simple for him. The barber thinks of him as brutal. However, just before he leaves, the captain gives the barber a piece of advice. 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.
It seems that the captain has understood the barber's difficulty and indecision. However, his words also reveal that perhaps committing atrocities against the rebels isn't as easy on him as the barber thinks. He's a cruel and brutal man, but clearly his actions take some toll on him. The killing he carries out isn't easy—and that revelation gives more depth to his character than there would be without his final warning.