Directions and Guidelines

Please send Directions, Guidelines and Prompt Questions for your Writing Assignment # 1 on William Wyler’s film, The Letter in a folder titled, “Writing Assignments” in Files.

Directions and Guidelines

This writing assignment asks you to write a short paper analyzing William Wyler’s film, The Letter (1940) by answering ONE of the following sets of prompt questions below. In addition, please draw upon materials from class lectures and in-class discussion. For this assignment, you must write a three-page (maximum four-page) essay answering of the prompt questions below. The assignment asks you to analyze Hollywood representations of the “Others” in Wyler’s film. Your essay should be neatly typed and doubled spaced (with one-inch margins, and be sure to number your pages). More important, please structure your essay around a thesis statement, and organize your visual analysis and discussion of two specific scenes from the film into a cohesive argument.


Please be sure to choose two specific scenes that enable you to compare and contrast how Asians (or “Others”) versus the hegemonic (“dominant” or “superior” race) Whites are represented in Wyler’s film.


Please read Richard A. Oehling, “The Yellow Menace: Asian Images in American Film,” in your course reader (Canvas, under “Readings, week 1”), which provides you with a brief history of how Asians are portrayed in Hollywood films. As I already mentioned, this writing assignment requires no research beyond reading Richard A. Oehling’s article posted in a folder on Canvas, under “Readings, week 1”. However, when appropriate, please reference Oehling’s

2article in proper footnotes (or endnotes). There are many different styles of footnotes and endnotes. Please use the Chicago Style of footnotes and endnotes and you can find instruction and examples at the Perdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL):


: Please DO NOT fill your pages with a summary of the plot of the film. Keep in mind that you are asked to provide your own analysis, not write a synopsis. Rest assured that we have seen this film many times, so just mention the plot when it is relevant to your argument. You will get an automatic “F” on your paper if you hand in a paper that is simply a summary of the story narrated in the film.

Prompt Questions:

1.What specific country (or countries) is (are) referred to in the film? How are Asians represented and portrayed in Wyler’s film? How does the black and white format of Wyler’s film lend itself to visual representations of this racial/colonial binary? How do the make up, dress, speech, facial, and physical expressions contribute to the racial contrast between the two main female characters in the film: Mrs. Hammond, “the Eurasian woman” (Gale Sondergaard),and Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis)?

2.Discuss when and how Leslie Crosbie crochets in the film. In what ways does Crosbie’s activity stand metaphorically as a visual narrative thread that helps to untangle the film’s complex narrative plot into a coherent story? In what situations and circumstances do we see Crosbie crochet in the film? How might we interpret the lace shawl that Crosbie wore to meet Mrs. Hammond related to this motif of veiling and unveiling of her true face and her hidden motive?

3.How does the portrayal of Ong Chi Seng’s character (Victor Sen Yung) in the film shed light on European and white American perceptions of “Asian” men? Is he portrayed as masculine? Is he represented as a generous and frank character?

4.In what ways does the visual depiction of interior space in the film signify racial differences? How does the lighting of spaces illuminate the contrasting world of the white colonialists (expatriates) versus the “Others”? How might the moonlight (or the lack thereof) and its specific association with the appearance of the “Asians” (or “Others”) in the film shed light on Hollywood perceptions and characterizations of the Others” as dark, mysterious and thus not easily legible?

· Choose 1 prompt to analyze 2 scenes from the film The Letter. Please do not summarize the movie. Assert your own opinions and perspectives to answer the prompt.

· What you want to do in this paper is a formal analysis paired with a critical analysis.

· What is formal analysis?  It looks at form (the film’s style/ techniques) and observes in detail the nuances of what you see on screen.  This can include an analysis of the lighting used, the actors performances, the structure of the storyline, the costumes and makeup, blocking (the actors relationship to each other in physical space), editing (the kinds of cuts employed between shots and transitions between scenes), and the composition (the arrangement of objects and actors on screen and how they are framed by the cinematography).

· What is critical analysis?  In visual studies and/or film studies we look to the surface of an object (in this case, a film) and seek to understand why it is constructed in a particular way – and then the critical part comes in when we attempt to understand what the construction of a visual object can tell us about the social, cultural, historical or political significance that informs the creation of this object.

· In writing your paper, remember the main themes of the course.

· Structure your essay around a thesis statement – if you are having difficulties with thesis statements please refer to this link and look at the powerpoint slideshow provided. Although it says it is for a World Literature class, the outlined components of a thesis are helpful:


· Use Chicago Style footnotes/endnotes and include a bibliography at the end. If you are unfamiliar with this style of citation, please refer to worksheet attached to this email. Even if you do not directly quote from a source you must include it in your bibliography since it informed your understanding and analysis of the movie. This is outlined in the attached paper. For your reference please check the link below as well:

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