23 pages 46 minutes read

Edgar Allan Poe

The Conqueror Worm

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1843

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Historical Context

Poe always understood his market; he understood what the people wanted. And in the 1840s, America wanted the apocalypse. Poe grew up within the social-cultural dynamic in New England and in the Mid-Atlantic states that has since come to be called the Second Great Awakening, a Protestant religious revival that lasted more than a decade and radically altered the place of religion in American culture.

Beginning in the 1820s and continuing until the 1850s, a wide confederacy of itinerant preachers working the East Coast tirelessly promoted the miracle of conversion and the urgency to return to God. Indeed, one of the cornerstone doctrines of the Second Great Awakening was that the time for the Great Reckoning promised in Christian writings, most notably in the Book of Revelation, was actually set to happen. In fact, one of the more prominent preachers during the time in which Poe was drafting his theatrical apocalypse, “The Conqueror Worm,” was the New York Baptist minister Reverend William Miller (1782-1849) whose unapologetically certain prediction for the apocalypse, or more specifically the Second Coming of Christ—he actually set the date as October 22, 1844—created a widespread hysteria as Americans bought into the idea that the end of the world was fast approaching.