Vronsky is vexed that Anna appears to deliberately refuse to understand her position in society. Appearing at the opera in society as a ruined women, he thinks, is to renounce society forever. After much hair-pulling, however, he decides that he must also go to the opera.
Instead of keeping her head low so that society might accept her again one day in the future, Anna’s visit with Seryozha has made her determined to re-enter Russian society and prove that she is not an outsider. However, Vronsky, like Karenin, would prefer to keep his reputation intact.
At the opera, all eyes are on Anna. In the box next to Anna’s are acquaintances of Anna’s. The wife appears quite agitated and leaves; it is clear that she is humiliated to be seen near Anna. Vronsky goes to his brother’s box to find out what exactly is happening. Vronsky’s mother says that the woman insulted Anna. Everyone has forgotten the singer and is looking at Anna, says his mother.
The real drama at any theatrical event in Petersburg never takes place on stage: people go to the opera to see and be seen, and this time, Anna is the center of the show. Anna’s charisma was once a magnet that drew everyone to her, but now it is a magnet that pushes everyone away. Where once she stood at the center, now that she has let her love be seen explicitly and ceased to hide her affair, Russian society sees her as a laughingstock. Put another way, Russian society seems to see any kind of sincerity, or true external representation of inner feelings, as something both silly and dirty.
When Vronsky returns home, Anna has already arrived. She says that the woman in the box next to hers told Anna it was a disgrace to be seated next to her, and that if Vronsky had loved her, he wouldn’t have driven her to attend the opera. Instead of arguing, Vronsky gives her assurances of his love, and the next day, they leave Petersburg and go to the country.
Anna refuses to face the truth about the reason for everyone’s insulting glares; even though she knows deep down that society has turned on her because of her affair (which it would have accepted if only she herself had seen it as an amusement rather than love). She blames Vronsky, as it is easier for her to lash out against him rather than examine herself.