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Major Stevenson is the owner of Greenbriar Plantation, where Jeff and Jennie Patton have lived and farmed as sharecroppers for forty-five years. He's a stingy old man who believes one mule is enough for any farm, even if that mule has to work 35 acres. Jeff considers it a waste of money because the mules get worked to death and have to be replaced. Having to deal with Major Stevenson, along with the aftereffects of Jeff's stroke and other hardships, is what leads Jeff and Jennie to make the decision that causes the tragedy alluded to in the story's title.
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