Writing Assignment: An Analysis of William Wyler’s film, The Letter (1940)

The Writing Assignment on William Wyler’s film.

N.B.: You can watch this film again by renting and streaming it on for $2.99. Please type into the search engine: William Wyler, The Letter and you can stream the video on their website.

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.

Note: 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 article 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 atthe Perdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL): ml

Note: Should you need to learn how to use footnotes, this is a very useful online resource.

Please note also that we do not accept Web sites as sources (i.e., do not use Google or Wikipedia for this assignment).

Note: 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.

Warning: If you do not follow the above directions and guidelines, you risk failing the writing assignment.


N.B.: In the age of great internet access and smart phone, we all turn to google for information and thus it is very important that you avoid copying information and writings from the internet and claim them as your own work. Please be honest and respectful of copyright laws by footnoting and crediting your sources properly.

Warning: If you get caught plagiarizing, you will get an automatic “F” on the assignment and in the course. We will report your misconduct to the provost of your respective colleges and your case will be handled according to the regulations and policies as outlined in the above websites.

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?
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