In the midst of conflict, people must make a choice which they think will resolve their problem. In the short story “Just Lather and Nothing Else” by Hernando Tellez, the barber has an internal struggle in which he must first consider his values before making a decision.
In any internal conflict, there is always a problem from which a struggle stems. From the beginning of the story, the barber’s problem is evident when Captain Torres enters his shop. When Torres takes a seat, the barber estimates he has a four-day growth of beard and takes note that it was the four days Torres was on a foray against his fellow revolutionaries. At this point it is clear that two opposing political parties exist. The barber’s problem now is that he has an enemy in his shop with the ability to send him to his death if he so much as suspects the barber of ill intentions.
The barber’s first choice to resolve his conflict is simply to kill Torres. Since the barber is a revolutionary, it would be only natural for him to do just that. This is shown when the barber feels he has a certain obligation to the revolutionaries’ cause. Furthermore, he would find it difficult to explain to the revolutionaries that Torres was in his very hands and yet he did not avail of this opportunity to finish him there and then. In fact, it would be the barber’s duty to rid the town of Torres, for he had killed and mutilated many of his comrades. With the death of the captain by his hands, the barber would be praised as the avenger of his people, and would be remembered by all for bringing justice to his town.
Although the barber feels justified in killing Torres, he also considers letting him live. By killing Torres, the barber believes that nothing is to be gained by it, and that “others and still others would keep coming, and the first kills the second, and then these kill the next, and so on until everything becomes a sea of blood.”
Another consequence of killing Torres would be the loss of his livelihood. The barber would have to flee town to avoid getting caught, and this would cost him his most valued passion—being a barber. Hiding from his enemies would not aid him in avoiding their wrath, for they would search for him until he is found. Soon enough, he would meet the same fate of his fellow revolutionaries. Moreover, the barber considers himself a revolutionary, not a murderer. He “does not want to stain his hands with blood. Just with lather, and nothing else.” Torres was an executioner, but the barber was simply a barber. Consequently, the barber’s decision is to let Torres live, for he values his reputation as the best barber in town more than he does as a revolutionary.
People challenged with a conflict must make a decision they believe will result in the most favourable outcome. The barber is one who faced such a dilemma—his worst enemy was also a customer in his shop. One choice the barber considered was to kill Torres, a member of the existing regime, for this would relieve the town of his ruthless crimes. However, the barber finally decided against killing Torres as he came to realize he is not one to commit a murder. He is simply a barber and values nothing more than his occupation.
Lather and Nothing Else by Hernando Tellez.