The central conflict of this poem seems to be encapsulated in the figure of J. Alfred Prufrock himself, and in particular in the indecision that he is plagued by and the choice of whether to act or not. He is a curious character to focus on as the protagonist of what appears to be from the title a romantic poem, as we see him venture towards an undisclosed destination where he will meet a woman and ask an important question. Nowhere more clearly is this conflict captured than in the following stanza:
And indeeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair--
(They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!")
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin--
(They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!")
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
Note how this stanza presents J. Alfred Prufrock. He is desperately insecure about his appearance, and imagines how others will criticise him about his baldness and thinness. Also, he is incredibly indecisive and cannot bring himself to make a decision on anything. He says there "will be time / To wonder "Do I dare?" but then immediately qualifies that by saying there will be time to turn around and go back down the stairs from where he was going to. The stanza ends by focusing on how even in a minute there "is time / For decisions and revisions" which can reverse what we have decided before. It is rather ironic that perhaps one of the most famous quotes of this poem: "Do I dare / Disturb the universe?" is uttered by a man who actually "dares" to do nothing. Thus the central conflict of this poem concerns the character of J. Alfred Prufrock and his inability to make a decision and his own lack of self-security.