Jude's dreams of Christminster are dreams of discovering his place in the world. At home in Marygreen, Jude is a common boy, without parents and without much hope for attaining any position in the world. In a society where class plays a significant role in determining one's future, Jude suffers from the knowledge that he has little chance of advancing.
This fact of his character is present from the opening pages of the novel when Jude says goodbye to his teacher, Philotson.
Here we learn:
Even at this stage, Jude is considered less worthy of education and has been attending night school.
In Jude's dreams of finding his place in Christminster, he becomes a person of value. This dream and vision is in stark contrast to his situation and treatment in Marygreen.
As a child, Jude is raised by an aunt and this aunt has never been happy about Jude's presence. In his aunt's house, Jude is tolerated and not honored or prized. At work, Jude is found lacking and treated poorly.
Jude is flogged, then fired. Jude’s aunt, who already resents his presence, is angry with him. Jude runs off toward Christminster.
In a graphic moment of symbolism, Christminster is shown as the place where Jude believes he can find deliverence from his obscurity. First he sees the lights of Christminster and is drawn by them. Soon he puts the lights together with the reputation of the town as being a place of learning and Jude's dreams of attaining an education become fixed.
These dreams can be understood as a counterpoint to Jude's view of himself as he expresses later in the novel, "Well—I'm an outsider to the end of my days." His dreams of becoming educated in Christminster are dreams of finding a place of his own, where he will be a valuable person having achieved a worthwhile goal.
Beyond these rather practical emotional ends, Jude also imbues the notion of education with a spiritual quality.
Jude’s feelings about the university also have a somewhat mystical, religious quality
This is not in contradiction to his yearning to find a place where he belongs, but an extension of that yearning and a translation of the deep need that Jude possesses to find a connection.
Jude moves to lodgings in Christminster early on in the novel, for two reasons; one, because that is the place of his educational aspirations, and also because his cousin Sue, whom he is starting to take an interest in, is there. Christminster is a place of great, indeed almost mystical significance for Jude, as the university and Sue become the two greatest objects of desire in his life. This sense of the mystical is greatly enhanced when Jude wanders round Christminster alone, conjuring up great scholars and philosophers from the town's past in his imagination. There is a distinctly eerie feel to the scene; those figures from the past haunt him like ghosts. This is also appropriate to his own situation as his own dream of joining the ranks of such legendary figures remains nothing more than a dream; it has no part in reality. Jude himself is like a ghost, doomed to remain on the periphery of society; he never really has any success.