Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser is a novel that accurately displays the progress of the United States in the time period. Progress was in the air and ideas were sprouting. The citizen of Martin’s time desired the next big thing. The Robber Baron of this time period has both similarities and differences with Martin. Martin strived to be successful, but did it the right way. Martin’s desire for the latest technological advancements was also prominent. Millhauser accurately represents the hustle and bustle of the business world in this time period.
Martin lived in a period of economic prosperity. Businesses were booming. However, one major problem of the time was the formation of monopolies. A few of these business men or “Robber Barons” include John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Jay Gould (Enotes). Robber Barons often achieved wealth by exploiting workers. Conversely, Martin managed to obtain success without the exploitation of workers. Martin even presented his dear friend, Emmeline with a job. Martin’s “desire to keep a close watch over the operation of the new restaurant led him one day to offer her the job of cashier, which she passionately accepted” (Millhauser 128). Martin wanted to keep a sharp eye on his company, and he knew he could trust Emmeline. The robber barons had similar goals with Martin; however, they went about achieving them in different ways.
Martin was an exemplary model of a self made man. Martin’s career began as a bellboy and he never regressed. He continued to climb the ranks of the hotel industry before briefly partaking in the construction of lunchrooms. Martin was not willing to work in a field he was not cut out for. Martin “felt, even as he turned over the idea of a fourth cafe in Brooklyn, a little sharp burst of restlessness, of dissatisfaction, as if he were supposed to be doing something else, something grander, higher, more difficult, more dangerous, more daring” (Millhauser 129). Martin had always looked to improve himself. He would never sit back and luxuriate in his success. Martin was also the opposite of a materialistic person. Most, if not all of his money was put towards his business expenses. Martin didn’t need a mansion in downtown New York City to be satisfied. Martin would often be content with a suite in one of his hotels.
Lavish, new creations were also becoming a significant part of life. New apartment buildings, mansions, skyscrapers, and businesses began to line the streets of New York City. Martin had “imagined a city with trains in the air and trains under the ground, a fierce and magical city of moving iron, while along the trembling avenues there rose, in the clashing air, higher and high, still buildings” (Millhauser 115). Martin was also similar to the other dreamers of his time in building these amazing creations. Martin dreamt and hoped for some things that other Americans could not even imagine.