In no other novel by Hardy is theme so important. And his theme here may be stated briefly as follows: man is becoming aware that his life is governed by old ideas and old institutions and he desires to break out of these obsolete forms. This modern spirit causes him to question old beliefs and institutions and to seek new ones, to give up what is known and tried for the unknown and new, and hence to experience loneliness and frustration as he searches on his own. Specifically in the novel, Hardy depicts characters who raise questions about such things as religious beliefs, social classes, the conventions of marriage, and elite educational institutions and who feel in the absence of the old certainties that the universe may be governed by a mysterious, possibly malign power. Some critics have suggested that Hardy had in mind when he wrote the novel Matthew Arnold's comments on the coming of the modern spirit.