Martin Dressler is the son of an immigrant who runs a cigar shop where Martin helps, but Martin is unsatisfied, convinced that better opportunities and a deeper sense of meaning are just around the corner. So Dressler quits the cigar shop and finds a job on the bottom tier of the Vanderlyn Hotel as a bellboy.
Dressler's fierce resolve to work toward the American Dream make him an outstanding worker, and just according to plan, he rises up the organizational ladder until finally he is offered the position of hotel assistant manager.
But Dressler quickly realizes that middle management could never satisfy his deeper longing to lead an organization and be at the top of all its systems. So, Dressler quits the job and pursues management of a chain of restaurants.
Again, Dressler is unsatisfied and quits to pursue his brain child, the Hotel Dressler. He secures an investment partner in his sister-in-law. His marriage is on the back burner and doesn't seem like it will bring him any meaning. The novel is a picture of the pursuit for the American Dream, and its core meaning lies in the lack of resolve. It becomes clear that the reason Dressler is unhappy is not because he hasn't achieved something specific, but rather because he is unable to experience peace because of his unrelenting belief that someone else's grass is greener and that if he just works hard enough, one day his life will make sense to him.