Early on in the novel, the village of Marygreen is set in opposition to the university town of Christminster. The young Jude sees Christminster as an enlightened place of learning, equating it with his dreams of higher education and his vague notions of academic success. Yet while Jude lives quite close to Christminster and knows a man who is going to live there, the city is always only a distant vision in his mind. It is nearly within his reach but at the same time unattainable, and this physical distance serves as an ongoing metaphor for the abstract distance between the impoverished Jude and the privileged Christminster students.
At the start of the novel, Jude is portrayed as an earnest and innocent young man who aspires to things greater than his background allows. He resists succumbing to the discouragement of those around him and does not fear the gap he is creating between himself and the other people of his village. He is seen as eccentric and perhaps impertinent, and his aspirations are dismissed as unrealistic. It is this climate, in part, that leads him to marry Arabella. All through his young adult life, he avoids going to Christminster. Perhaps he is afraid of the failure he might encounter there. In Arabella, he sees something attainable and instantly gratifying, as opposed to the university life, of which he fears he may never become a part. In this way Jude avoids disappointment, but finds that he cannot live within the confines of an unhappy marriage.
Confinement--particularly in regard to marriage--is a major theme in the novel. Jude feels trapped by a youthful mistake and Arabella's manipulation. He finds that the decision is irreversible and resigns himself to living with the consequences. The freedom he receives after Arabella leaves is only partially liberating: It lets him be independent in a physical sense, but because he is still married, it forbids him from achieving legitimate romantic happiness with someone else.