Ring Lardner: Haircut

April 30, 2009

A barber is the narrator in this classic American short story. As a customer sits in his chair, he asks, “You’re a newcomer, aren’t you?” So here is a chance for him to tell his story once again. It is not imaginary but it is of people and incidents in the very town where he is living and working, many of whom walk in and out of his shop.

Jim, a former salesman, is a wastrel. He likes to play pranks on people. One butt of his numerous practical jokes is Julie who has steadily rebuffed his advances to her. And another is Paul, a young and mentally challenged boy, who counts Julie as one of his few friends. Julie’s lover, a doctor who has just come to the town for his practice, swears to take revenge on Jim for having publicly humiliated her. Does he?

The barber narrates a terrible incident in a cool, detached manner.

The story ends and so also the trimming of the head of hair. All the while the customer has been there without a grunt or a nod of his head (which would have disturbed the barber in his work anyway).

The story, coming as it does from a tradesman, is in a conversational, dialectical  style. 

The last sentence is unforgettable.