How does An Equal Music present tensions between individual and collective experiences?

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Vikram Seth's novel An Equal Music presents the tensions between individual and collective experience by reflecting on Michael Holme's participation in the Maggiore Quartet, by showing how the affair between Michael and Julia is based on individual desires, by narrating Julia's incorporation into the musical group, and by leaving Michael stuck in his individuality at the end.

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In the novel An Equal Music, Vikram Seth reflects on the tensions between the collective and individual by making his protagonist a member of a musical group. Michael Holme is the second violinist in the Maggiore Quartet. As such, his life is not entirely his own. The other musicians in the group depend upon him to create the music that makes them famous. Michael must conform himself to the group, working together to play and interpret the music. He cannot go off on his own and play as an individual. He is part of a team.

Michael reunites with Julia, a woman with whom he was once in love. Julia is now married and has a child, but the two begin an affair. Here again, we can see the tensions between the individual and the collective. In this affair, Michael and Julia are acting as individuals, but Julia is also a member of a family, and to be with Michael, she turns her back on her husband and child. She even follows Michael to Vienna to play with Michael's group.

Julia, however, is deaf. Michael fails to tell the other members of the group about this, and soon they begin to wonder why Julia is struggling with the music. Michael is again acting according to his individual desires and not considering what is best for the group. Julia, however, is an excellent musician, and once the others know about her needs, they adapt to include her, showing how the collective can reach out to and support the individual. Julia becomes part of the group and its music.

In the end, though, Julia returns to her family. She decides to sacrifice her individual desires to the needs of her husband and child. Michael is left alone, and when he begins playing badly, he leaves the quartet. He is focused on himself at this point and cannot give the other musicians what they need. They cannot help him until he helps himself.

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