Enotes provides a great summary of the historical connections possible in this novel. I have included the link below, but let me give you a quick overview first.
Much of the conflict in this novel centers around what was "accepted" by society and what was important to the individual. In the Victorian Era, much relied on appearance, social heirarchy, and social rules. Tom represents a close adherence to these rules. He behaves as a man "should", in control and confident in his own power. Maggie, on the hand, challenges the social standards, being more boisterous and opinionated than a girl had any right to be.
The relationship between Stephen and Maggie also demonstrates the strain of social standards at the time. Stephen wants Maggie to run away with him. Being a man, he has more freedom than any woman. He does not recognize how dangerous it would be for Maggie to do what he is asking - he isn't conscious of how much more damaging it was for a woman to enter into such a relationship. Maggie does, however, which is why she refuses him.