THE THIRD LEVEL


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Walter Braden “Jack” Finney was an American author. He was born on October 2, 1911 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. Finney was given the name Jack Finney. After his father died when he was three years old, he was renamed Walter Braden Finney in honor of his father, but he continued to be known as “Jack” throughout his life. He graduated in 1934 from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. He married Marguerite Guest. They had two children, Kenneth and Marguerite. After living in New York City and working for an advertising agency there, he moved with his family to California in the early 1950s. He lived in Mill Valley, California. He died of pneumonia and emphysema on November 14, 1995 at the age of 84 in Greenbrae, California. His best-known works are science fiction and thrillers, including The Body Snatchers and Time and Again.

Introduction

The narrator interweaves fantasy with the reality in the most futuristic projection of time travel. Charley, a young New York commuter loses his way. He finds himself in what he thinks is the third level of the Grand Central Station in New York. The Grand Central Station has subways on two levels from where the commuters take trains to different destinations. No third level was ever built. However Charley believes in the existence of a third level, operating in a time-frame of 1890s. The period of 1890s represents a peaceful life not possible in the present era. From this level, Charley wants to travel to Galesburg, Illinois, with his wife Louisa. For him, it is a part of reality while his psychiatrist friend calls it a “waking-dream wish fulfilment.”

Summary

This is the story of a 31 year old man named Charley. One day after work coming from the Subway, he reached the third level of the Grand Central station (which does not actually exist). He reminisces the entire experience with his psychiatrist friend Sam. Charley thought he experienced time travel and had reached somewhere in the eighteen-nineties, a time before the world saw two of its most deadliest wars.

As soon as he realised what time he is in, he immediately decided to buy two tickets to Galesburg, Illinois; one for himself and the other for his wife. Unfortunately, the currency used in that century was different. Thus, the next day he withdrew all his savings and got them converted even if it meant bearing losses. He went looking for the third level but failed to find it. It worried his wife and the psychiatrist Sam who told him that he is hallucinating in order to take refuge from reality and miseries of the modern world which is full of worry.

Charley thus resorts to his stamp collection in order to distract himself when suddenly one day he finds a letter from his friend Sam who had gone missing recently. Sam wrote that he always wanted to believe in the idea of third level and now that he is there himself, he encourages Charley and Louisa to never stop looking for it.

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Major Characters


Charley
Charlie was a nervous person. Stamp collection was his hobby. Though he was young, he feared to live in this war-ridden world. He wanted to go to a peaceful and idyllic place. Later he went to the past. But his wife denied to believe him and asked him to consult with a psychiatrist.

Sam
Sam was a psychiatrist. He was also a friend of Charley. When Charley fantasized about the Third Level at Grade Central Station, he visited Sam for consultation. Sam declared it merely a ‘temporary refuge’ from his tension. He called it waking-dream-wish-fulfillment. But slowly he himself got trapped in this imaginary world. He talked to many psychic patients daily, who told him about their woes and worries. It had made Sam’s life a burdened one. He also started trying to find sojourn. He wanted to escape from the life which had become woeful after listening to the afflictions of the patients suffering from mental diseases.

Louisa
Louisa Mebbin was a very shrewd and cunning character who knew how to grab a chance to gain wealth as and when opportunity knocked at her door. She can be called an opportunist.

Theme

The story third level is the most concise and entertaining story about time travel. Charley wishes to be transported to the third level, the world of 1894 which is supposedly much happier and quieter place to be. The question whether the third level exist in real or only in charley’s mind can be inferred from Sam’s letter. The story also dwells on the theme of escapism, not only as a psychological refuge from the grim realities of the present day world but also as a desire to stay with the past or to keep the past alive in the complexities of the present.

Important Questions & Answers


1. What does the third level refer to?
Ans. The Grand Central Station of New York has subways on two levels from where the commuters take trains to different destinations. No third level was ever built. However Charley believes in the existence of a third level, operating in a time-frame of 1890s. The third level signifies an escape from the modern world that is full of insecurity, fear, war, worry and all the rest of it. The period of 1890s represents a peaceful life not possible in the present era. From this level, Charley wants to travel to Galesburg, Illinois, with his wife Louisa. For him, it is a part of reality while his psychiatrist friend calls it a “waking-dream wish fulfilment.”

OR

Third level refers to an additional floor at the Grand Central Station which originally only had two levels. Charley was hallucinating one night while going home when he reached the third level.

Question 2. Would Charley ever go back to the ticket-counter on the third level to buy tickets to Galesburg for himself and his wife?

Ans. After reading the story we get to know that Charley was interested in travelling to Galesburg with his wife Louisa. However, he couldn’t locate the third level again. The first time round, he found the third level by accident. When he reached the ticket-counter, he realized that the currency he had with him was not useful as it belonged to a different period. He went back to convert his three hundred dollars into the “old-style currency” that could enable him to buy two tickets to Galesburg. However, when he returned to the Grand Central, he could not find the corridor leading to the third level. He couldn’t go back looking for the third level as his wife was too worried about him. Moreover, he himself had stopped looking for it after sometime.

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Question 3. Do you think that the third level was a medium of escape for Charley? Why?

Ans. Yes, the third level was a medium of escape for Charley from the unhappy modern world that is full of insecurity, fear, war, worry and the like. This is because he could never find it again at the Grand Central Station. Charley did not agree with his psychiatrist friend when the latter called his experience of visiting the third level ‘a waking-dream wish fulfillment.’ His friend tried in vain to make him realise that his hallucinations are a result of his strong desire to escape to the peaceful times of the 1890s.

Question 4. What do you infer from Sam’s letter to Charley?

Ans. The letter was addressed to Charley but mailed to his grandfather in Galesburg, Illinois. It was mailed in 1894 and now appears in his grandfather’s collection. The letter was suddenly found among the first-day covers where it had never been seen earlier. Moreover, the contents of the letter are exactly what Charley thought about Galesburg of 1890s. Sam’s letter to Charley is a mystery that blends together the worlds of reality and fantasy, and thus, needs further exploring. There are two perspectives from which one can look at the letter. At one level, it proves that Sam has reached Galesburg of 1984. However, if we look at a deeper level, we can infer that the letter is just another instance of his hallucination or dreams of escapism. It is possible that while Charley was looking at the old first-cover letter, he was carried away to a different world where the letter was sent to Charley by Sam. The letter reflects Sam’s undeterred urge that forces him to keep looking for the third level.

5. The modern world is full of insecurity, fear, war, worry and stress. What are the ways in which we attempt to overcome them?
Ans. One cannot count on fingers the negative aspects the modern lifestyle has to offer. There is stress, pressure, fear, insecurity and worry. In order to relieve you of all these miseries, one can indulge in creative activities from time to time. Making time for yourself and what you love without worrying about a productive outcome is a crucial thing many people tend to ignore in the hustle and bustle of daily lives. Secondly, one can read a good book or even meditate. Long walks in the lap of nature are not to be underestimated because nature has its own healing power. Apart from these, a short weekend getaway, movie night with friends or even alone at home can be done in order to dissociate oneself from the routine.

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6. Do you see an intersection of time and space in the story?
Ans. Yes, there are a lot of instances that tell us about the intersection of time and space in the story. First intersection being the one between the first two levels of the Grand Central Station and its third level which is based somewhere in the 1890s whereas the former exists in the present times. Also when Charley went to buy tickets for Galesburg which existed in 1894 while he and his wife exists in the present times. Not to ignore the old fashioned architecture of the third level in contradiction to the modern interiors of the first two levels. Lastly, the letter dated 18th July, 1982 that Charley found also throws light upon the intersection of time and space as both the sender (Sam) and the receiver (Charley) exist in the present times.

7. Apparent illogicality sometimes turns out to be a futuristic projection? Discuss.
Ans. While a lot of the world’s greatest inventions were made by people who were criticized for their ideas. Audiences used to mock at them for being illogical. Sighting the example of Thomas Edison who invented the light bulb, no one believed in him at first but all he had was an idea and its realistic projection in mind. The idea here tells us how important it is to sometimes follow one’s insight and have hope for it holds the capacity to change the world through its futuristic projections.

8. Philately helps

keep the past alive. Discuss other ways in which this is done. What do you think of the human tendency to constantly move between the past, the present and the future?
Ans. Philately does indeed help in keeping the treasures of past alive. It gives one a chance to revisit and embrace the past of one’s existence. Some of the other ways in which it can be done is by keeping record of all the letters, ancient manuscripts, things that are discontinued but were a significant part of the past, images, videos and written records of experiences.

Human beings are a collection of all the experiences they have been through. Their tendency to connect with the past from time to time helps them stay connected to the roots while helping them to face the present and future challenges with more strength. Connecting with the future on the other hand, is just as important to know the outcome of one’s current actions and decisions. If one doesn’t seem satisfied with the realistic interpretation of future, it can certainly help in altering current actions to direct towards a better future.

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