Hardy addresses the Industrial Revolution and the dehumanization created by the factory driven cities. He portrays the destabilization of rural communities as a result of industry, the inability of family farms to keep up with the economic demand of the time, and the need for families to be broken apart so that members could go off to cities to work. Once there, those alienated individuals found low-paying strenous jobs in factories that were rife with unhealthy conditions.
In addition, Hardy attacks the Victorian determination to apply a strict moral code unfairly when dealing with men and women. Men could be promiscuous, could demand servitude from the women in their life. Women were unequal, inferior, and had to adhere to a much chaster moral code. It wasn't until 1857 that a women could even sue for divorce, no matter how her husband treated her. Hardy's protagonist is meant to challenge these well-established social beliefs and behaviors.