Just Lather, That's All by Hernando Téllez

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What happens in Just Lather, That's All?

"Just Lather, That's All" takes the form of a monologue delivered by the short story's narrator, the proprietor of a barbershop. The barber has secretly become an informant for a band of rebels, and when a brutal military captain asks for a shave, the barber must decide whether to kill the captain or let him go free. In the end, he decides he doesn't want blood on his hands.

  • 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. "Just lather, that's all."

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Summary

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.

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.

Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 849 words.)