What evidence does Faulkner give readers in "Barn Burning" to understand the extreme levels of economic exploitation that were common at this time?

To help readers understand the extreme levels of economic exploitation common during the Reconstruction era, Faulkner presents details pertaining to Abner Snopes's life as a tenant farmer and the perpetual poverty in which he and his family live as a result. He feels that he is "own[ed] body and soul" by his new landlord and boss, who can afford expensive rugs from Europe while Abner can barely afford to keep his family alive.

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First, Faulkner provides information about Abner Snopes and his family to indicate the level of poverty to which they are accustomed. When they have to move, we learn that have only two "gaunt mules," and when Sarty has to ride later, there is no saddle. His sisters are dressed cheaply, too. When the family camps for the night, they have only a "small fire … a shrewd fire: such fires were [Abner's] habit and custom always, even in freezing weather." This is yet another indicator of the frugality the family has had to employ in order to survive. Even when the weather is freezing, Abner will make only a very small fire; his concern is survival, not comfort.

When they arrive at their new home, where Abner evidently plans to work as a tenant farmer, someone who lives on and works the land and pays rent to the land's owner in crop, the family finds a "paintless two-room house" that is "identical almost with the dozen others" they've lived in, despite being a family of six. So, he's been a tenant farmer for a long time. Right away, he wants to pay a visit to Major de Spain, the man, who Abner says, "aims to begin tomorrow to own [Abner] body and soul for the next eight months." Such a description really shows the exploitation of this group, men who have little choice but to enter into this kind of bondage, at the mercy of the rich men in the big house.

Abner ruins his new boss's rug. Then, when his family cannot get the rug clean, Major de Spain says that he will "charge [Abner] twenty bushels of corn against [his] crop." He plans to add it to Abner's contract, increasing the likely already exorbitant amount owed to him. The Justice of the Peace rules that Abner will have to pay out half that amount, ten bushels of corn "over and above [Abner's] contract with him," and the equivalent of $5 at the time, a huge sum that Abner will now not have to feed and clothe his family. Of course, he has no say in this. He should not have ruined the family's rug, of course, but it seems obscene that the de Spains can spend $100 on a rug from France when this family of six can only live in a two-room house with "shrewd fires."

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