Condensation is one of the methods by which the repressed returns in hidden ways.


Psychoanalytic Theory & Condensation

To condense something means to compact it. In physical science condensation is considered the compacting of a gas or vapor, but in psychoanalytic theory it is the combining of a person's thoughts and desires into symbols to be deciphered in dreams. These symbols or behaviors are associated with emotions, ideas, desires, feelings, and memories, especially expressed in dreams.


Condensation & Literature

The use of symbols in literary works most directly applies to condensation in psychoanalytic theory as they are essentially the same as symbols created by the unconscious in dreams. Abstract ideas are transformed into concrete images, symbols, or metaphors by the author; thus, characters and events are portrayed in a "literary" way. Condensation is the process of combining numerous unconscious thoughts into one symbol. This idea relates to literature because any symbol used in literature can represent multiple concepts and emotions. These symbols might relate to the unconscious of a character or the author.

It allows for and establishes greater meaning in the details of a literary work as everything comes together. According to Psychoanalytic Theory, the complexity of literature can be attributed to condensation.

Catcher & Condensation


  • An example of condensation in Catcher is his red hunting hat, which can represent protection, withdrawal from the world, and the "womb image." Holden always wears his hat and pulls it down to try to escape, clearly representing a childlike mentality and his retreat from the social adult world. The symbol of the hat represents a "re-entering of the womb" for Holden. His fear of growing up and his reaction to danger is quickly diminished when he assumes the fetal position while wearing his hat.

  • In The Catcher in the Rye Allie's baseball glove symbolizes both Holden wanting to maintain innocence and Holden's deep trauma from Allie's death.

  • The unchanging Museum of Natural History is a symbol that offers insight into Holden's emotional feelings. He desires a world of consistency and simpleness that the museum represents to the reader. The museum also is a symbol of Holden's own childhood, which he seems to be searching for during this NYC journey.

  • Holden writes about his dead brother Allie's baseball mitt and describes how Allie wrote poems in his mitt. One may see that as a form of protection because of his letting go of emotions in the mitt, while the mitt also catches those emotions and keeps them from others. The mitt can be seen as a symbol of Allie's death, Holden's inability to let go of the trauma, and Holden's obsession with "catching" and protecting children in general. Holden's overall idea of innocence causes him to have the dream of himself saving a group of children in the Rye.

  • Holden's "obsession" with the Ducks at the lagoon could possibly be an example of this phenomenon. In continuously wondering about the ducks, Holden wants to hear that the ducks survive the brutal winter, and eventually return to the lagoon. Similarly, Holden obsesses over Allie's death, and wishes that he were still alive. The parallel between the ducks and Allie's death is shown towards the end of the novel, when Holden looks for the ducks in the lagoon, but is then reminded of Allie's death. The ducks become a very important symbol that condenses Allie's death, Holden's quest to find relief from his pain, and his universal curiosity about what happens to us all after we die into one image.

  • In The Catcher in the Rye Holden scratches off the word "fuck" from his little sister's school wall in an attempt to preserve their innocence and attempt to save younger children from the painful situation he is currently in. This action and his general attitude while scratching off an assortment of these words is condensation at its finest.