The Affective and Psycholinguistic Significance of Sexual Assault in Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Works of dystopian fiction often explore political anxieties and tensions, representing jarring deviations from everyday society. In dystopian texts, immoral actions become the norm as ‘dystopia’ works as an opposite of the moral and political ideal. As such, deviant acts become a staple of literary dystopias as a way of depicting the worst a society could possibly offer. In works of dystopian fiction, sexual assault is often used as both an allegorical device and an example of how dystopian societies can pervert the moral norm. This dissertation aims to determine why sexual assault is used in A Clockwork Orange and The Handmaid’s Tale and what its literary significance is. Furthermore, it explores how the language used in each text enforces the propensity for characters to sexually assault others.

Using affect theory in literature and the work of Sabine Sielke, this dissertation explores the significance of the different depictions of sexual assault and concludes that their depictions are conducive of authorial ideology in one form or another. Sexual assault serves as a narrative device deployed for affective resonance, drawing attention to contextual anxieties and tensions, and is used to explore the impact of these anxieties and tensions at the level of the body. Secondly, using the psychological theories of Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Haidt, this dissertation finds that the language used in each text constructs confirmation biases that ‘affectively prime’ characters to act in certain ways as a result. The dystopian universe in which the texts are set explores how control, or lack thereof, over language can mould a propensity for characters to sexually assault and be sexually assaulted.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Surrey
SupervisorCarl Thompson (Supervisor)


  • dystopia
  • literature
  • affect theory
  • psycholinguistics
  • a clockwork orange
  • the handmaids tale
  • margaret atwood
  • anthony burgess
  • language
  • linguistics
  • sexual assault
  • rape narrative

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