Written in the form it discusses, Reorienting Rhetoric is both a narrative weaving out of a theme and a systematic treatment of a set of these ideas. The theme is the role of narration in the history of Western rhetoric. The ideas include the gradual tendency to privilege only systematic language, to discard all traditional modes of thinking, and to view narrative as an object but not as a means of thinking. Reorienting Rhetoric argues that narration is a mode of thinking as important as logic and that as narration goes, so goes rhetoric. O'Banion's perspective is heavily indebted to Quintilian, whose rhetorical question captures the essence of rhetorical thinking: "What difference is there between a proof and a statement of facts [narratio] save that the latter is a proof put forward in continuous form, while a proof is a verification of the facts as put forward in the statement?"
Because narration has largely been ignored as a mode of thinking, O'Banion considers the gradually truncated role of narration in Western rhetorical, philosophical, and literary history; the resurgence of the importance of narrative in the twentieth century, especially in the work of Kenneth Burke; and the contributions of scholars in a variety of disciplines to understanding the importance of narrative and the limitations of logic for their fields of study and, inadvertently, for rhetoric.