Examining Harriet and Irving Deer’s “Satire As Rhetorical Play” in connection to Mary Rose O’Reilley’s “The Peaceable Classroom,” the main concept that seems to be expressed in both centers on meaning, or rather what has meaning according to the limits of interaction in literature and one’s expression of the world around them. This idea is given life in “Satire As Rhetorical Play” when it is stated, “In a sense, the whole point of a great deal of contemporary satire is that people separate art and life, that they structure their art and their lives, the ways they see and think, their institutions, in ways that cut them off from the possibility of being human.”(Deer and Deer 715). This understanding of meaning seems to point out the mechanistic structures of reality, in that reality acts in a way that humans are driven to isolate themselves due to whatever structures that the individual interprets as part of her world. The Deers continue on to state, “However, for the postmodern writer, all structures are products of man’s imagination, including his visions of world order. Either there is no intrinsic meaning to the world, or if there is, it is inaccessible to man, and he must therefore rely on his own fictions to survive.” (Deer and Deer 717). Extrapolating these ideas in Slaughterhouse 5, Vonnegut appears as though he is separating himself from the rest of the world by using his expression via literature as a method of defining meaning for himself, Billy, and the reader. Although this meaning exists, it is merely an illusion according to the Deers, an illusion that allows man to survive in face of the horror he has seen in his world.
Rather contrarian to the Deers, “The Peaceable Classroom” reconciles issues of the individual in relation to her world when O’Reilley writes, “It is not necessary or even useful to these data. That will be the business of the rest of his contemplative life. At this point it is sufficient for most students to realize that such patterns exist and that they are different from the traces other writers leave of themselves.”(O’Reilley 110). Here indeed, the return of the individual to knowing oneself highlights the web of meaning and pattern that exists in regards to the individual’s relationship with the external world, and the external world for the internalization of the individual. In this sense then, the pattern that exists for meaning ties together Vonnegut, Billy, and the reader, as they all share in the subjective expression of an experience and mash against each other via interpretation. As the author paints a picture of the observed world, the reader becomes a character in the story because it is the reader who alone participates and understands the story, as the story cannot exist, have meaning, or progress without the interconnected relationships of reader and author. In this sense, as a reader the individual is tasked with carrying the discussion beyond the mere vision of the author. O’Reilley argues this further when she says, “Granted, we have a lot to tell our students, but I believe our primary job should be to bring them to asking-by whatever means we can devise-the question that will elicit what we have to tell.”(O’Reilley 111).