Since she was a small child, Denver has enjoyed going to a growth of boxwood in the woods behind 124. The boxwood bushes grew together to form a kind of room, where Denver felt protected and often sought refuge. Once, when she was returning to 124 from the boxwood room, Denver saw Sethe through a bedroom window, praying. A white dress was kneeling next to Sethe, with its sleeve around her waist.
Denver’s boxwood room is her own private place, a kind of refuge or home that she seeks away from the dysfunctional home of 124. The white dress with its arm around Sethe continues the idea of the haunting, and the way that the ghost seems both to depend on but also support Sethe.
The dress embracing Sethe reminds Denver of the story of her own birth. As Sethe has told her, she was running away from Sweet Home while pregnant with Denver. She was in great pain and her legs and feet were swollen, but she was determined to get to her children (who had been sent ahead to Baby Suggs). As Sethe lay exhausted on the ground, she remembered bits of her childhood. She could barely recall her mother, but remembered dancing and singing. She thought she was going to die.
Denver is so steeped in her mother’s storytelling that she can recall the story of her own birth as if she herself remembers it. Thus, Sethe’s past lives on not only with her, but with Denver as well. In extreme pain, Sethe persevered out of a motherly determination to reach her children.
Then, she heard someone passing by. She feared that it would be a white man, but it turned out to be a friendly white woman named Amy. Amy was an indentured servant who was trying to get to Boston, where she could buy some velvet. Amy walked Sethe to a nearby abandoned house and massaged her swollen feet.
The appearance of Amy saves Sethe’s life. While Amy is white, her status as an indentured servant links her somewhat to Sethe as a slave. Their cooperation is a small example of how those oppressed and marginalized by society can come together as a community united by their difficulties.
Thinking about the story of Amy, Denver enters 124 and tells Sethe about the dress she saw. She asks Sethe what she was praying for and Sethe responds that she was just thinking about time. Sethe tells Denver that some things stay with you and describes her ideas about “rememory.” According to Sethe, you can walk into someone else’s “rememory.” Denver asks if nothing ever really dies, and Sethe says that nothing does.
Sethe’s idea of “rememory” encapsulates how the past continues to affect the characters in the novel. It is not just something from the past—it is something that continues to recur. One person’s “rememory” can affect not only that person, but other people as well, as exemplified by the ghost of Sethe’s baby.
Denver asks Sethe about Sweet Home. Sethe tells her about Schoolteacher, who came to the plantation after Mr. Garner died. Schoolteacher would ask the slaves questions and write in his notebook, preparing for a book he was writing about them. Denver says that she thinks the incident with the dress means that the spirit of the baby has plans.
Through his book, Schoolteacher attempts to define slaves on his own terms, without allowing them to speak for themselves. This is one of the reasons for the importance of storytelling among slaves and ex-slaves, as a way of telling their own stories and keeping their own histories alive.
Paul D has moved into 124, disturbing the house’s arrangement that Denver had grown used to. Denver had learned to take pride in the haunting of their house, but now Paul D has scared the baby’s ghost away. Sethe thinks about Denver’s idea that the baby has plans. She reflects that she does not trust the future enough to make plans, but now, with Paul D, wonders if she might be able to plan a future.
Paul D’s arrival changes the familial arrangement of 124 as a household. The way Denver takes pride in the haunting shows how those who are different, and made to feel separate because of it, can come to cling to the source of that difference and refuse help or compassion. Sethe, though, senses that Paul D may offer a way out of the cycle of "rememory" and haunting in 124.
Looking around one of the rooms of the house, Sethe notices that it is completely devoid of color except for two orange squares on one quilt. Sethe realizes that this was why Baby Suggs was “starved for color” shortly before her death, always asking for bits of colored cloth. The last color Sethe remembers is the pink from part of her dead child’s tombstone. But now that Paul D has moved in, Sethe is suddenly aware of how colorless the house is.
It is only when Sethe becomes able to tentatively think about the present and the future (as opposed to the past), she begins to recognize the lack of color in 124. Color can be seen as symbolizing the vivacity in life, the enjoyment of the senses and the world around you—but Sethe and the house have been solely focused on and lost in the past.
Paul D sings as he mends things around the house, but none of the songs he knows seem to fit the place. He thinks to himself that he cannot stay with any woman for more than two months at a time, but he feels that 124 is different. In order to survive his difficult life, Paul D has “shut down a generous portion of his head,” but now those parts of himself that he has shut off—emotions, feelings, hopes—are being opened again by Sethe and 124.
Paul D's experience at Sweet Home and after have hardened him, or forced him to harden himself so as not to be overwhelmed. But Sethe, whom he loved and desired even though she chose Halle (and he respected her choice of), reaches the parts of him that have been closed off, perhaps because he knew and loved her before he became closed off..
Paul D tells Sethe that he can look for work around 124 and she tells him that he can stay at the house. Paul D is hesitant, since Denver evidently does not want him to stay, but Sethe assures him that it’s okay and tells him not to worry about Denver. She says that Denver is “a charmed child” and credits Denver with the miraculous appearance of the white girl who helped her when she was fleeing Sweet Home and about to die. Sethe begins to think about a possible future with Paul D, but she is still preoccupied with protecting Denver and “keeping her from the past that was still waiting for her.”
Sethe is protective of her only child left at 124, though she also wants to accommodate Paul D into her life. Sethe sees the past here as a kind of monster that can spring up and overwhelm someone, and she seems to see the past in a collective way—that the past of slavery and Sethe herself could overwhelm Denver and make her unable to face the present or future because of the horror of the past. And Denver is obsessed with the past—with her own birth.