Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

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Dreams and Spiritualism Symbol Analysis

Dreams and Spiritualism Symbol Icon
True faith and religious belief are a serious theme throughout Anna Karenina, and Tolstoy takes questions of religion seriously. However, Tolstoy is much more skeptical about dreams and spiritualism. Dreams in particular are bad omens throughout the novel. Dreams and daydreams offer the appearance of escape for a fleeting moment, but this path of escape is always a fantasy, never a reality. Anna and Vronsky have the same recurring dream of a dirty peasant figure who speaks ominously in French. Unlike Levin and Kitty, who are in sync in their daily life and whose communication works best on a level deeper than words, Anna and Vronsky’s shared nightmare does not strengthen their bond for good, but rather intertwines them parasitically together. This recurring symbol of the peasant figure suggests that they are out of touch with the natural course of life. Rather than allowing their love to flourish honestly, or rather than cutting off their affair for the sake of their families, Anna and Vronsky try to put off consequences and live for themselves in the moment; however, this recurring dream figure, with his amorphous yet increasingly ominous threatening presence, suggests that they are ultimately doomed to fracture.

Dreams and Spiritualism Quotes in Anna Karenina

The Anna Karenina quotes below all refer to the symbol of Dreams and Spiritualism. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Viking edition of Anna Karenina published in 2000.
Part 4, Chapter 2 Quotes

“What was that? What? What was that terrible thing I saw in my dream? Yes, yes. The muzhik tracker, I think, small, dirty, with a disheveled beard, was bending down and doing something, and he suddenly said some strange words in French. Yes that’s all there was to the dream,” he said to himself. “But why was it so horrible?”

Related Characters: Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky (speaker)
Related Symbols: Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication, Dreams and Spiritualism
Page Number: 355
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Vronsky pretends to put on a brave face to the outside world, he feels increasingly fraught with an impending doom that he perceives looming over his life, and he projects this fear into the interpretation of his night visions. Rather than brushing aside dreams, Vronsky takes them seriously. The fact that Vronsky cannot interpret the words of the muzhik (Russian peasant) in his dream fills him with dread. Tolstoy frequently underscores the inability of language to express great emotions throughout the novel: when characters want to express something truly profound or moving, they say nothing at all. However, the inability to understand a spoken language triggers a different set of emotions: fear, anxiety, and dread. When the unspoken is mutually understood, the non-verbal communication creates a shared language between the speakers. But since Vronsky cannot understand what the muzhik is saying, he creates the worst possible scenario in his imagination.

The muzhik’s use of unintelligible French also creates the sense that the social order has been unsettled. In nineteenth-century Russia, French was the language of high culture, and people spoke in French to elevate their positions in society. However, in the dream, the peasant is speaking the language of the aristocracy that Vronsky can no longer understand, which ominously portends Vronsky’s own fall from grace.

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Part 4, Chapter 3 Quotes

“And this something turned, and I saw it was a muzhik with a disheveled beard, small and frightening. I wanted to run away, but he bent over a sack and rummaged in it with his hands...” And she showed how he rummaged in the sack. There was horror on her face. And Vronsky, recalling his dream, felt the same horror filling his soul.

Related Characters: Anna Arkadyevna Karenina (speaker), Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky
Related Symbols: Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication, Dreams and Spiritualism
Page Number: 361
Explanation and Analysis:

Vronsky and Anna have shared the shame dream. When Anna tells Vronsky about her dream of the French-speaking, bearded muzhik rummaging in a sack, unbeknownst to her, she is describing the same person that Vronsky saw in his nightmare. The two lovers are seemingly so bonded that they share a subconscious mind, but the figure in their shared dream arouses horror within both of them. Anna tells Vronsky that Karenin has read the dream to indicate that she will die in childbirth. Karenin’s role in the relationship is already quite shaky: he keeps up the façade of their marriage because he doesn’t want to ruin his reputation, yet he knows that this sham cannot last forever, and so he perceives the vision as causing an end to this fragile state of affairs. The fact that Anna is relaying Karenin’s version of the dream to Vronsky and seeking Vronsky’s reassurance underscores the complicated power dynamic between all of them: though Anna is psychologically and physically bonded with Vronsky, she is still socially bound to Karenin.

However, when Anna is telling Vronsky about the dream, she feels the first stirrings of her child kicking inside her, and her emotions change suddenly from horror to joy. Since Vronsky cannot share the physical cause of her joy, he is puzzled by her sudden shift. Despite the ominous nightmare, Anna, at this point, is still capable of experiencing happiness brought on by the physical world: though she is worried and superstitious, she hasn’t yet surrendered herself completely to omens and dreams.

Part 7, Chapter 14 Quotes

He knew and felt only that what was being accomplished was similar to what had been accomplished a year ago in a hotel in a provincial capital, on the deathbed of his brother Nikolai. But that had been grief and this was joy. But that grief and this joy were equally outside all ordinary circumstances of life, were like holes in this ordinary life, through which something higher showed. And just as painful, as tormenting in its coming, was what was now accomplished; and just as inconceivably, in contemplating this higher thing, the soul rose to such heights as it had never known before, where reason was no longer able to overtake it.

Related Characters: Konstantin (Kostya) Dmitrich Levin (speaker), Princess Katerina (Kitty) Alexandrovna Shcherbatsky, Nikolai Dmitrich Levin
Related Symbols: Natural World, Dreams and Spiritualism
Page Number: 713
Explanation and Analysis:

Levin sees both the death of Nikolai and the birth of his child as events that stand outside the scope of his normal life. At this point in the novel, Levin has proceeded throughout most of his daily activities without giving much thought to a higher power. However, in moments of extreme emotion, Levin embodies the cliché that "there are no atheists in foxholes." When he finds himself in the presence of birth or death, and feels powerless to make any change happen by his own physical means, Levin finds himself repeating a prayer over and over. He feels so deeply connected to Kitty that their bond transcends reason and logic and makes him aware of a force beyond the realm of ordinary existence.

Levin’s transformation from a staunch atheist into an avowed believer mirrors Tolstoy’s spiritual journey. When Tolstoy was a young man, he was a firm atheist, but by the end of his life, he had converted and become an extremely spiritual person. Levin’s deep connection with the natural world through his farm is paralleled by his growing connection to the supernatural world through faith.

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Dreams and Spiritualism Symbol Timeline in Anna Karenina

The timeline below shows where the symbol Dreams and Spiritualism appears in Anna Karenina. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Compassion and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...the quarrel, Oblonsky wakes up on his sofa in the study, having just had a dream about a wonderful dinner party. He remembers the moment when Dolly found out about the... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 11
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Compassion and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Anna has a recurring dream in which she is married to both Karenin and Vronsky, and though the situation seems... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 2
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
Compassion and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...home while Karenin is out. Before the rendezvous, Vronsky falls asleep and has an ominous dream about a peasant with a dirty beard who speaks in French. Because of the dream,... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 3
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
...arrive soon, but she also says that she will die in childbirth. Anna describes a dream she had about a peasant with a dirty beard who speaks in French, just like... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 8
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
...recovered state, Anna feels joyful: the whole situation with her husband seems like a feverish dream. She has transferred her former love for her son onto her daughter, and she is... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 26
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
...merry: the next day is Seryozha’s birthday, and Karenin has just won an award. Seryozha daydreams about his father winning two awards even higher than the one he has won, and... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 27
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
Compassion and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...gospels and the Old Testament. Although Seryozha knows the verses well, he gets lost in daydreams and can’t concentrate. Seryozha refuses to believe in death. That night, for his birthday, Seryozha... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 16
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
...the peasant women she sees. She begins to be jealous of Anna as well. Dolly daydreams about having an affair with another society man. (full context)
Part 7, Chapter 22
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
Compassion and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...not divorce Anna, likely because of something Landau had said in his sleep or fake dream-like trance. (full context)
Part 7, Chapter 26
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
...She looks at him tenderly as he sleeps in his study. Anna has her recurring nightmare with the peasant muttering French words. When Anna wakes up, she initially feels better, but... (full context)