Just Lather, That’s All

A short story written by Hernando Tellez, “Just Lather, that’s all” tells about a barber who is a revolutionary and the problem he has when Captain Torres, a military general walk into his barbershop. Barbers are known to hear a great deal of gossip and stories from patrons who feel they need to vent or utter rumors of some sort. He decides to utilize his position and be an informant. He attempts to remain anonymous, while the conflict begins when Captain Torres enters the barbershop for a shave. This story includes many conflicts between different sides and imagery and symbols are used to communicate unspoken works and feelings between the barber and Captain Torres.

Throughout most of the story, the barber battles an inner conflict in his mind where he has to face making an important decision of whether or not to kill the Captain. “I’m a revolutionary not a murderer.” If he kills him the general would become the martyr and the barber would lose his cover as the “neutral” barber. In the end, he decides he “will not be a murderer” and as a result finds out that Captain was not at all that different from him.

At the beginning when the barber puts on the shaving cream, he is thinking rationally and calmly. He asks Torres about his job and career and “got on with his job of lathering his beard”. With each stroke of the blade there is less shaving cream remaining on the general’s face and with the less shaving cream on his face the less rationally the barber thinks. He thinks about how “One of the tiny pores could be opened up and tissue forth its pearl of blood”. The barber’s mind starts thinking about “How many of us has he ordered to be shot?” Negative thoughts were rambling in his head. When there is shaving cream on Torres’ face he seems to think clearly, feeling safer that he doesn’t have to do the “deed”. He adds a little more lather under his chin and his Adam’s apple where the “big vein” is, and with the razor in his hands he can’t think clearly. How easy it would be for him to kill the captain. With the blade in his hands, the barber feels in control, like he can change the fate of many in his hands. He believed the people would say, “A name to remember, he was the town barber. No one knew he was defending our cause.” Every time the blade is cleaned the barber reminds himself “I am a (good) barber who does things properly” (p.443) He thought he could be a hero if he killed Torres and he never thought in this way before the razor blade was opened.

Hernando Tellez frequently and logically uses the symbols, the shaving cream and the razor, throughout the story. The shaving cream represents a security blanket for the barber and the barrier between him and Captain Torres. With a lot of shaving cream, he’s rational and calm but when is lessened, the barber’s thoughts are clouded. The barber received strength from the razor blade. He goes over in his mind that he’s a revolutionary and not a murderer. He trembles like a real murderer, having thoughts of a real murderer, but is he a real murderer? He re-enacts the trial and error of his action he could pursue. “Out of his neck a gush of blood would spout onto the sheet, on the chair, on my hands, on the floor.”(p.443) His dilemma is taking over his mind, anxiety seeping in his head. The barber contemplates on which path to go and the consequences that will go along with the course of action.

Although the story is brief, the extent of the emotional details the author provides towards the characters and setting of the story had me questioning my moral and ethical standards in life. This story has made me realize the importance of values, especially when facing conflicts between what we know is right, and the unfortunate obligations we have made in our society that force us to contradict these beliefs. Our moral and ethical principles vary according to each individual due to different experiences we have and I think