In this post, I will attempt to deconstruct and closely examine the meaning, and ultimately the role in the overall story, of the dreamlike scene in Part 1, Chapter 29 of Anna Karenina. In this scene, the titular character is on a train en route from Moscow, the place of her peacekeeping role with her brother's family, of her introduction to Vronsky, of their mutual deepening of the feelings between them. She is returning to St. Petersburg, where her home, her son, and her husband await her. But it is the space inbetween--no more in Moscow, but not yet in Petersburg--that is important, and that is what shall be examined in this post.
The first time I read this scene, I assumed Anna was hallucinating. After all, the things she sees have a scary-fantastical aspect to them, and unlike a dream, there is no indication of her being anything less than perfectly alert: "She felt her nerves tighten more and more, like strings on winding pegs. She felt her eyes open wider and wider, her fingers and toes move nervously; something inside her stopped her breath" (Tolstoy 101). However, she reacts to the strangeness around her not with apprehension, but rather excitement.
I would contest that the fact this hallucination-dream happens, and the minute details of what exactly Anna sees, are ultimately trivial. As far as dream sequences having symbolism goes, this one is not very indicative of underlying meaning. However, I see Anna's reaction to the scene as very revealing of her character. It seems to show, even more so than her earlier comment about vicariously living her English novel, that Anna wants adventure. She wants her life to be out of the ordinary, and revels in the sensation when it seems to happen to her. This may explain, at least partially, why Anna makes her way so readily into Vronsky's arms and affections later in the novel.
I would also theorize that this scene, more so than any other early scene in the novel, acts as a minor turning point for the plot. I see it as very similar to a rite of passage--Anna is passing through a time of troubles, of mystery and magic, and comes through the other side a changed woman. The fact that what she experiences isn't, in the strictest terms, quite real, still does not cheapen its role in characterization and plot development.