Building up "meaning" and "symbolic values" is a founding experience in the history of American culture. The very moment of the discovery of the New World, its opening to the eyes and interpreting means of the European colonizers, marks the beginning of the attempt to impose an "axiocentric" model on the wilderness of the continent, through a series of "negotiations" characterized by the dominant force of the Old World institutions and their traditions, consolidated social efficiency and prestige. Starting from these premises, the article tries a "close" reading of this cultural outlook through a functional analysis of Nathaniel Hawthorne's three main collections of tales and sketches, "Twice-Told Tales" (1837), "Mosses from an Old Manse" (1846), "The Snow-Image" (1852), which are a sort of intellectual "workshop" on the "historical" past (the only one available) of the young American Republic, the colonial experience, particularly the New England heritage. Hawthorne reads it as an emblem of the "transience" of meaning, a chain of "supposed" values which reverbate on the present the ghosts and illusions of the past, with grotesque, often tragic effects. Hawthorne's narrative strategy is put into perspective with reference to "The Minister's Black Veil", one of his most famous tales, a "parable" on the shortcomings and contradictions of American denocracy, an open denunciation of the nation's stubborn effort to vindicate the "myth" of its innocence in the face of class consciousness, racial discrimination, social exploitation, and materialistc and market-oriented ethics.
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