Despite years of hard work, why is Jeff Patton still in debt in A Summer Tragedy?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the story, Jeff Patton hinted as to why he was still in debt despite many years of hard work.

"It don't make a speck o' difference though," Jeff reflected. "If we get much or if we get little, we still gonna be in debt to old man Stevenson when he gets through counting up agin us. It's took us a long time to learn that."

The phrase 'counting up agin us' could refer to the practice unscrupulous landlords engaged in to under-count bales of cotton harvested by sharecroppers. Also, many sharecroppers were forced to purchase seeds, tools, fertilizers, as well as food for their families on credit. The sharecroppers had to settle these debts with their landlords at the end of the planting season. Many landlords often charged high interest rates for the credit they extended their sharecroppers; also, unpredictable harvests and the inability of farmers to sell their crops to other interested parties (aside from their landlords) ensured that the debt got recycled into succeeding years. This was why Jeff Patton told his wife, Jennie, that it wouldn't have mattered how many bales of cotton they had: it never made a difference when old Stevenson counted up their debts to him.

teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jeff Patton knew that their landlord kept the couple steeped in debt for his own benefit. Because the law was often on the side of the landlords, Jeff Patton remained in debt despite many years of hard work.

More about sharecropping here:

Slavery By Another Name.