It is seen as a pinnacle of high culture and tells the story of the wanderings of a hero, Ulysses, on his way back from the siege of Troy to Ithaca, his home. But the major character of Joyce's novel is not a warrior or a king is instead a very flawed quite kindly and quite foolish man named Leopold Bloom, who works as a minor player in the advertising industry. He is married but his wife is having an affair. He is sacked from several jobs and he is very much given to daydreaming about all the things he would like to write in his life but which we know that will not happen. He farts, he likes to look at women at the street, he dreams of competitions in weekly magazines, and owning a cottage by the sea. Being Jewish is a bit of an outsider in the Catholic Dublin and there are various humiliations that he has to put up all the time.
Bloom is very unlike a traditional hero but he is representative of the average, unimpressive, fragile but still rather likable every day ourselves. Joyce lavishes attention on Leopold Bloom. He treats him as a deeply worthy of respect and immense interest. We should, Joyce suggests, learn from Bloom and try, in certain ways, to be like just as in the Ancient Greece Ulysses was held up as an inspiring model of resourceful and great conduct.
We follow Bloom for whole days where he wanders around Dublin. We see him having lunch, buying his supper, drinking coffee, he worries about his relationship with his wife and daughter, he goes to work, he listens to someone singing, he listens to various conversations. Joyce's says that little things that happens in daily life like eating, feeling sorry for someone, feeling sorry for oneself, putting the washing on the clothes line... these are not little things at all. If we look at them through the right lens, they are revealed as a serious, deep and fascinating. Our own lives are just as interesting as those of the traditional heroes. It is just a matter of appreciate it.
The helpful lens are supplied initially by Joyce's novel, but ideally we should internalise it and make it our own. We should accept ourselves as minor legitimate heroes of our dignified lives.
On the other hand, Dostoievskii's Notes from the Underground is an extended round against life and the world delivered by a retired civil servant. The civil servant is deeply unreasonable, inconsistent and furious with everyone including himself. He is always getting into rows, he goes to reunions of former colleagues and tells them all how much he has always hated them. He wants to puncture everyones illusions and make them as unhappy as he is. He seems like a grotesque character to build the book around, but he is doing something important.
He is insisting in a very particular face of the human condition. We want happiness but we have a special talent to make ourselves miserable. According to Dostoievskii's words "Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering: that is a fact".
He is attacking our ideas that if this or that were different we could leave suffering behind. If we had that great job, if we change the government, if I could afford that great house, if we invented a machine to travel fast around the world, to get on with or to divorce from a particular person... then all would go well. This, Dostoievski argues, is a delusion. Suffering will always pursue us. Schemes for improving the world always contains a flaw, they will not eliminate suffering, they will only change the source of suffering. Life can only be a process of changing the source of pain, never a removing pain itself. There will be always something to agonize us.
Against these progressive ideas the hero protests that reason accounts for only a fraction of human faculties and rarely if ever determines actions; moreover, whatever science may say about freedom being illusory, people will simply refuse to accept it. In fact, if ever a perfect rational society were created, people would conspire to bring it tumbling down.
Although both characters are superficially opposite, both novels share the believe that humans are not psychological monolites with clear definite views who are very certain of what they believe and care about. Instead, both novels reminds us that we will always carry a very complex and difficult selves with us and the progress will not always be as clear as we imagine. In order to fulfill Dostoievskii's fascination by the secret ways in which we, actually, do not want what theoretically we seem to seek, James Joyce applies the stream of consciousness. In the traditional novels the characters speaks with a very perfect grammar and sentences, and we think that this is a reflect of their inner life, thoughts and feelings that they have. Joyce takes us into our minds and tries to show us how thinking actually sounds like.
"Trams passed one another, ingoing, outgoing, clanging. Useless words. Things go on same, day after day: squads of police marching out, back: trams in, out. Those two loonies mooching about. Dignam carted off." (U8.475)"
Joyce tries to show us that if we knew more about others and ourselves, really thought and felt we will have a clear essence of what it means to be human, and we may perhaps slower to anger, quicker to forgive, we will love more and hate less.
After Friederich Nietzsche proclaimed "God is dead, we have killed him!", the human beings have regain their will. To this new existential situation, Joyce responds bringing back the Greek Gods and place them in a unsacred way in the XIXth century Dublin. Joyce tries to transform our common and boring lives, into an epic journey. On the other side, Dostoievskii tells us that once God is dead, everything is permitted. Moreover, Dostoievskii is trying to show us that there are no scientific or theoretical schemes that are capable of giving sense to the will of the human beings. Nietzsche would have tell us that we have to face our true desires, and put up an heroic fight against them and, only then, we will failure with solemn dignity. But are we ready to cope with the failures of life? In order to truly appreciate life, one has to suffer its worst aspects, either through an epified representation of our monotone lives (Joyce) or either through the raw acceptance of pain as pleasure (Dostoievskii).
We live in a world where there is more and more information, and we know less and less about our inner selves. After the fall of Gods, the challenge is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned in a world where identity is no longer fixed, because it stems from a self-built "life story"and a questioning of traditions and lifestyles due to global interconnections.