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The past is a good place to visit, but certainly not a good place to stay. The Third Level by Jack Finney is an engrossing story set in the 1950s. The story is studded with numerous undertones of irony. It takes you back in time. It was a world when people hadn’t seen two of the bloodiest wars in the history of mankind. The story brings to light the fact that figments of someone’s imagination can be used for shying away from reality, which in all fairness, is harsh enough. Let us take a closer look at the story.



The Third Level tells the story of a 31-year-old guy named Charlie (not Charlie Sheen). One fine evening, while rushing home, he decides to take the subway from the Grand Central Station in New York City. He ends up finding himself on the Third Level of the Grand Central Station (there were only two levels). There, Charlie observes spittoons lying on the floor. He observes that people wear wearing derby hats and gold watches, which they kept in their vest pockets. He also sees a Currier & Ives locomotive.


Realising that he’s gone back in time, Charlie tries to buy tickets to Galesburg. During the lunch hour, the next afternoon, Charlie withdraws all his savings (nearly 300 US Dollars) to buy old style currency notes. Charlie narrates this incident to Sam, his friend who works as a psychiatrist. Sam concludes that the Third Level is nothing but a mere figment of Charlie’s imagination. The miseries which the modern world, full of war, worry and terror, had to offer made Charlie hallucinate about the existence of the Third Level.


Charlie succeeds in finding an evidence related to the Third Level’s existence. He discovers a letter addressed to him by his psychiatrist friend Sam. The letter was dated July 18, 1894. It seemed that Sam wasn’t as incredulous of the Third Level as he had appeared to be.


The story clearly explores the concept of time travel. Jack Finney explores the mentality of a common man. He succeeds in exposing the vulnerable side of a common man. A myriad of problems conspired to corrupt Charlie’s mind. It further robbed him of his senses, and in his panic induced state, he hallucinated about the Third Level at the Grand Central Station. Even though it was hard for Charlie to believe his eyes, he decided to stay there, in the year 1894.


What stands out in the entire story is the extent of ease with which Jack Finney was able to bring out a common man’s craving for peace and security. Like any common man, Charlie too appreciated the so-called ‘pleasures’ of everyday life and the security of the familiar. He wanted to stay in the past because 1894 was much more peaceful, secure, serene. The world in 1894 hadn’t seen the repercussions of war. The insecurities that came with war, terror, and disease had got the better of common folks like Charlie who wanted a transient relief from the harsh realities of life.


All in all, The Third Level brings us to the conclusion that people find it hard to make peace with unpleasant things they come across in life. The story further makes the reader realize that the past and future are real illusions. They exist in the present, which is all there is.




Q 1 What, according to the psychiatrist, was Charley’s problem?

Ans: Charley told the psychiatrist about his belief in the existence of the third level at the Grand Central Station but was told that it was only a waking- dream wish fulfillment. The psychiatrist also added that Charley was unhappy because of the insecurity, fear, war, worry and that he just wanted to escape just like everyone else.

Q 2. What did the psychiatrist think about Charley’s stamp collection ? Why did Charley not agree with him?

Ans: The psychiatrist thought that Charley’s stamp collecting was a temporary  refuge from reality .Charley did not agree with him because his grandfather  for whom things were nice and peaceful and who did not need refuge from reality also collected stamps.

Q 3.How does Charley describe himself?

Ans. Charley describes himself as just an ordinary guy, thirty-one years old. He wore a tan gabardine suit and a straw hat with a fancy band. He was just like other men he passed on

the road and he was not trying to escape from anything.

Q 4. Why does Charley feel that Grand Central is growing like a tree?

Ans: In the story, “The third level”, Charley describes the Grand central station as a huge tree spreading its roots all over.

Charley was rushing back to home on an evening. He decided to take the subway to reach the Grand Central station. But unfortunately, he became lost as he found himself in the strange third level. He got to see new corridors, stair cases, and tunnels.

Everything seems to be so new to him and he finds the station as a huge tree spreading its roots all over. As he entered the tunnel the reach the station, he found the path leading to a lobby of a hotel which left him totally confused.  

Q 5. How did Charley make sure that he had actually travelled in the past?

Ans:  Charley went to the news stand and looked at the Newspaper ,he saw that  it was ‘The World’ ,a Newspaper that was no longer published . He later discovered through Public Library files it was printed on June11,1894   

Q 6. Describe Galesburg, as it existed in the year 1894?

Ans:  Galesburg was a wonderful town with big old frame houses, huge lawns, and tremendous trees whose branches met overhead and roofed over the streets. In 1894, summer evenings were twice as long, and people sat on their lawns, the men smoking.

Q 7 What preparations did Charley make to go to Galesburg?

Ans: He drew 300 dollars out of bank and purchased old style currency.


Q 8 In which context did Charley say, “eggs were thirteen cents a dozen in 1894”?

Ans: Charley had got his three hundred dollars out of the bank and got them changed into oldstyle currency so that he could go back to the third level and buy the tickets to Galesburg.

For his three hundred dollars he had got only two hundred dollars old-style currency but he didn’t mind that. The only consolation was that in the year 1894, the two hundred dollars would have more value, as things were much cheaper then than they were now.

Q 9 What made Louisa, Charley’s wife, believe that the third level was a reality?
Ans: Louisa, like Charley’s friends, believed whatever explanations the psychiatrist friend had given. But later, when she received a mail from Sam himself from the old Galesburg, Louisa believed that Charley was true to his claims and even began to search for the third level.

Q 10 What is a first day cover?
Ans: When a new stamp is issued, stamp collectors buy some and use them to mail envelopes to themselves on the very first day of sale; and the postmark proves the date. They’re never opened; they just put blank paper in the envelope. The envelope is called a first-day cover.

Q 11 Who had sent the first day cover and what was written on it?

Ans: Sam had sent the first day cover. Sam wrote that he had discovered the Third level and had reached  Galesburg .He found Galesburg peaceful and friendly .he advised Charley  to keep looking  for third level and reach Galesburg.

Q 12  How did Charley happen to reach the Third Level of Grand Central Station, New York?

Ans: One day Charley worked for more time at office. So he was late for home. So he took the subway from the Grand Central to reach the second level of it. From there he was to catch a train. He started walking quickly. He reached the second level. But, all of a sudden, he lost his way there. He entered a corridor that had a left turn. It was also slanting somewhat downwards. It was like a tunnel. He met no one on the way. There was dead silence. Even he could hear the sound of his own footsteps. Then the corridor took a sharp left turn. After coming down a flight of stairs he reached the third level of the Grand Central Station. 


Q1. Describe the Grand Central Station at the third level ?

Ans:  Grand Central Station at the third level looked very different.

There were Fewer ticket windows and train gates . Information booth  was in the center, it was made of wood and was very old looking man in the booth wore green eye shade and long sleeve protectors. The lights were dim and flickering as they were open flame gaslights.  There were brass spittoons on the floor.

Men wore Derby hats a black  four button suit with tiny lapels and he had a big ,black handlebar   moustache. Men had beards, sideburns and fancy moustaches .Women wore dresses with leg of mutton sleeves .He caught a glimpse of a very small Currier &Ives Locomotive with a funnel shaped stack. He also saw  a copy of the “The World’ ,a Newspaper which hadn’t been published for years.

Q2. What was reaction of the Clerk at the Ticket counter? Why?

Ans: .After Charley discovered that he was on the Third level ,he decided  go to Galesburg with his wife Louisa and turned to purchase two tickets from the ticket counter the clerk at the ticket counter glanced at his fancy hatband curiously .However when Charley counted the  money and handed over the currency notes to the clerk ,he started staring at Charley openly .He felt that Charley was trying to give him fake currency as the currency used in 1894 were old style bills  half as big as the notes that Charley was using ,he even threatened to turn him to the authorities Charley did not relish the prospect of going to jail therefore he turned and got out of the Third level as fast as possible.

Q3 Imagination is a ‘temporary refuge from reality’ Explain.

Ans: Sam Believed it was a waking dream, perhaps wish fulfilment.

He Felt that like many man in the modern world Charley too was unhappy. Modern world is full of trials and tribulations, worries and insecurities. He Felt Charley wanted to escape this world. All People indulge in some sort of hobby to escape the stark harsh realities. According to him, even stamp collecting was a kind of temporary escape. Charley refuted his contention- said people do not wander about due to stress. Besides his grandfather had also collected stamps in the good old peaceful days of eighteen-nineties and did not need to escape as life was quite stress free in those days.

Q4  Elaborate the theme of the story

Ans: Value Points- The story primarily focuses on the atrocities of the modern world – full of insecurity, stress, fear, war & hatred – one feels caged – by modern advancement – leads to tension and worries – leading people to look for means of an escape. In the story Charlie – creates the third level to seek refuge – cases his pressure – provide sweet power to relax.

Q5, How is the ending of "The Third Level" by Jack Finney ironic?

Ans: The story is about the notion of "escape," and specifically a kind of escape from history. Charley, the narrator, is a typical guy—one of dozens of men who look the same in their straw hats and gabardine suits. The escape Charley longs for is not a vacation from the city, however: he longs to escape to the past, to a time before the world wars. The non-existent third level of Grand Central station offers just such an escape: it is a kind of portal to the past.

The ending is ironic because it is the narrator Charley's "psychiatrist friend" Sam who makes it back to Galesburg, Illinois in 1894, not Charley himself. Charley confided in Sam about the third level, and Sam of course told Charley that he was experiencing a kind of "waking dream wish fulfillment." But Sam "got to wishing" that Charley had been right; like everyone, Sam, too, craves an escape from the twentieth century; he was able to find the third level (because, it is suggested, he wanted escape so badly) and buy train tickets to Galesburg. In the end, it is the psychiatrist, who ostensibly is trying to ground Charley in the present, who escapes into a past where even his profession does not yet exist.

Textual Questions

1. What does the third level refer to?

A. 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.

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

A. Charley went looking back for the third level that could take him and his wife to Galesburg because he wanted to go back to his past. He wanted to go back to the world that has not seen two of its deadliest wars that changed everything.

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

A. Yes, the third level of the Grand Central Station was a medium of escape for Charley. Modern world offers a lot of challenges and in order to take refuge from reality, one might resort to day-dreaming or hallucination We all understand the miseries of the modern world which is full of worry and pressure, thus, in order to take the burden away from his shoulders and heap a sigh of relief, Charley resorted to escaping reality, although unintentionally.

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

A. The way Charley discovered Sam’s letter was rather peculiar. It was one of those first-day covers people used to mail to themselves back in time with a blank page inside. So to begin with, the cover had a letter in it and not a blank page in it. Secondly, the letter dates back to 18 July, 1894 when Sam (the writer of the letter) didn’t exist because both Sam and Charley exist in the present times. Thus, it is sound to conclude that it was just a product of Charley’s imagination.

5. “The modern world is full of insecurity, fear, war, worry and stress.”  What are the ways in which we attempt to overcome them?

A. 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 yourself 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.

6. Do you see an intersection of time and space in the story?

A. 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, 1894 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.

A. While a lot of the world’s greatest inventions were made by people who were criticised 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?

A. 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 a 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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