The drip, drip, drip of dystopia: The Handmaid’s Tale, temporal boundaries, and affective investment


Critical dystopian narratives provide a captivating examination into bleak, futuristic societies, while simultaneously encouraging their audiences to draw comparisons between the fictional dystopian world and the societies in which the audiences live. This essay engages with viewers of the Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale to investigate the relationship between feminist dystopian fiction and affect. We posit that negative emotions drive viewer engagement with the text. Reactions of anxiety, fear, and anger ground participants’ reading of the series, and encourage them to critically interrogate the contemporary political environment through the lens of The Handmaid’s Tale’s Gilead. While feminist dystopian works are products of a particular political time and space, the ambiguous features of critical feminist dystopias are at once reflections of the specific cultural milieu in which they were originally conceptualized, as well as meditations on societal constructions that come before and after the production of those texts. Ultimately, we argue that feminist dystopian narratives are at once affective and analytical. These texts both necessitate critical engagement of women’s lives and transcend temporal boundaries to engage with the anxiety, fear, and anger of marginalized groups as a felt permanent condition.


Media, Journalism, and Film

Document Type





affect, audience studies, dystopia, temporality, The Handmaid’s Tale

Publication Date


Journal Title

Feminist Media Studies