The Third Level – Jack Finny

2. Charley really traveled to the past – time traveling.

Charley, an ordinary man

Charley was quite an ordinary man from New York. One evening he reached the Grand Central Railway Station, New York, after a long day’s work in the office. This was what happened at the station:

  • He was in a hurry to get home. His wife Louisa was waiting for him.
  • Having found no train from the first level of the station, Charley went down to the second level.
  • While waiting for a train on the second level, Charley found a door and tunnel down.
  • Curious as he always was, Charley suspected it was a mysterious tunnel.
  • Following the tunnel, he took steps down and reached the third level of the station.

But, Grand Central has only two levels! How is this third level possible? Charley remained wondering. Wondering at the old fashioned train engines, at the hundred year old fashion, men with long mustache, women dressed in the old French style, a man pulling out his watch from pocket, gas lamps and spittoons…

  • From a newspaper, he learnt the time – 1895!
  • Charley knew one thing for sure – time traveling!
  • He had got into similar tunnels in the past – under Roosevelt Hotel, under Times Square…
  • In the past he had got into more such mysterious tunnels and caves but always a question remained without answer – why was he not able to go back to those places once again!
  • Anyway, now, in the third level of the Grand Central Station, he had not much time to ask questions – Louisa was waiting at home.
  • He went the ticket counter and asked for two tickets to Galesburg – the 1895 Galesburg or more clearly, a hundred years old Galesburg – where he was born.
  • When he paid the cash at the counter, the clerk suspected him for tendering fake currency. Threatened, Charley ran out of the third level and reached home.

Questions & Answers

How did Charley reach the third level of the Grand Central Station?

Grand Central Station, New York, has only two levels. One evening Charley reached this station and then walked down the second level to catch an early train to his home. While he was on the second level, he strangely happened to notice a doorway down. He followed the steps and reached the third level which was never heard or seen by anyone. In the third level Charley saw a hundred year old world and people.

What was Charley’s strange experience at the Grand Central Station?

The Grand Central Railway Station, New York, has only two levels. It is a common fact. A simple, normal, man, Charley, once took an unknown way down to the third level of this station. He got lost in a 100 year old world there. People, fashion, currency and dressing were different there. Even though it was difficult for Charley to believe what was happening, he had no other choice than believing the reality. He thought of living there, a world behind his time, because the 1894 world was more peaceful, fragile, innocent and secure. He tried to get two rail tickets to his hometown Galesburg; one for his wife, indeed. But Charley failed to get the tickets as the clerk at the ticket counter suspected him and his currency notes. Charley ran away, got out of the third level and finally reached the present world and got home.

How did The World help Charley to confirm his doubts regarding the existence of a third level?

The World was a popular newspaper which stopped its publication before 1994. Having reached the third level of the Grand Central Station, Charley noticed that the World was still available. He saw that day’s edition of the World and the date, June 11, 1894 and confirmed that he was back in 1894.In the beginning, when he reached the third level, Charley was confused. Whatever he saw in the third level told him that he had travelled back to the past. This was confirmed when he saw The World, a newspaper of the past that was no more published. The lead story said something about President Cleveland and it was printed June 11, 1894.

How did Charley ascertain that he had reached the 1894 world?

Charley reached the third level of the Grand Central Railway Station, New York. Amidst his fresh amazement, Charley could not relate the possibility of being in a hundred year old world. But when Charley observed the dim gas lamps, brass spittoons, old styled costumes of men and women, moustaches and beards generally worn by men, string-watches and so on, Charley began to doubt that he had become part of the old world yet he still didn’t know which year it was. Charley got it resolved only at the sight of The World, the newspaper that bore the date of 1894 with a piece of news of President Cleveland.

Why did Charley run away from the third level?

Charley was greatly amazed when he reached the hundred year old third level and was planning to buy two rail tickets to Galesburg where he had spent his childhood. But when he took out his money to pay the fare, the clerk found out that his notes were fake and thought that Charley was attempting to fool him. He warned him that he would call the police. Seeing that there was nothing good about police and jail in the hundred year old Galesburg, Charley ran away.

What was Sam’s answer to Charley’s dilemma?

Charley met his psychiatrist friend Sam and told him about this experience. The psychiatrist interpreted it as a mental disorder. Indicating his hobby of stamp collection and this sort of experiences, Sam explained his abnormality to be ‘escaping from the struggles of life by fantasizing.’ Soon his friends and wife began to consider Charley as a mental patient. But how! Charley was no abnormal. He was a happy man who loved his wife and friends and stamps. But the rest of the world believed Charley was abnormal, a dreamer.

How did Charley’s friends relate his stamp collecting habit to his being abnormal?

Charley had a collection of stamps. When he told his friends of his peculiar experience at the Grand Central Station, all his friends believed that he was not mentally well. They said that he was worried as anyone in the modern world and by spending time with his stamps he was escaping from realities.

Does Charley agree that stamp collecting habit is a way of escapism? Why?

No, Charley doesn’t agree with this claim of his psychiatrist friend. Charley’s grandfather was a stamp collector yet he was a happy man and he never ran away from any reality. Another stamp collector was President Roosevelt, the American President who won the World War II. From these two people Charley believed that stamp collecting habit does not mean escapism.

Sam goes Missing

Why was Charley not able to get to Galesburg?

Next day Charley went to a particular shop that sold old currency. He paid more for less old money and ran to the railway station. He hoped to buy train tickets this time to go to his old village. He reached the first level, went down to the second and searched for the door to the third level. Alas! The door had vanished. He searched and searched but could not find it again.

How did Charley’s behavior return to normal?

Charley stopped his search for the third level when he saw that he would never find the gate that opens to the third level. He spent more time with his stamp collections now. His wife was glad that her husband now behaved normally.

How did Sam reach Galesburg?

Sam was smarter than Charley. From Charley’s experience, he learnt that one can get into the third level only once. He also believed that once returned from the third level, one could never get back. Keeping this in mind, Sam got old currency from the shop and went to the railway station. He found the door to the third level as claimed by Charley, purchased ticket and reached the 1894 Galesburg, Charley’s village.

How did Sam settle down in the old Galesburg?

Having reached there, Sam settled himself in hay business because he could not do his old profession in Galesburg. Who will come to a psychiatrist in 1894? Well, this man was none but Sam, the psychiatrist!

Why couldn’t Sam practice psychiatry in Galesburg?

The Galesburg where Sam reached from the Third Level was a peaceful town. The people there were much happier and had not experienced the terror of world wars and the destruction they had caused. They were not insecure and anxious and therefore didn’t require a psychiatrist.

The Reality Side of Charley’s disappearance

This was what happened on the third level. Next day Charley first went a shop that sold old currency, bought some some old currency and went to the station. He began searching for the tunnel that led to the third level but could not locate it any more. For a week he came, searched for the tunnel and went back disappointed. Finally he told the whole story to Louisa and the good lady brought him to their friend Sam, a psychiatrist.

  • Sam heard his friend’s story and termed it a slight deviation of the mind.
  • He explained it happened to Charley because he was always in search of a place to escape from the burden and monotony of city life.
  • Charley disagreed to this explanation but Louisa and other people believed the psychiatrist.
  • Slowly Charley stopped his search for the unknown.
  • He was returning to a normal state when suddenly the most unexpected happened – Sam reached the third level and sent him a message.

Questions & Answers

What made Louisa, Charley’s wife, believe that the third level was a reality?

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.

What do you think had happened with Sam the psychiatrist friend after he went missing from New York?

It was Sam who had termed Charley’s claims of the existence of a third level at the Grand Central station a ‘waking dream fulfillment.’ Ironically this very Sam found out the third level and reached Galesburg and even settled down there, happily.

Why did Charley think that Sam could not practice psychiatry in Galesburg?|

The Galesburg of 1894 was a peaceful town with no fear of war and no unhappy people. As long as there was no worry and fear of war, a psychiatrist was out of question and therefore Sam the psychiatrist could not practice it in Galesburg.

What is a first day cover?

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.

How did Sam’s mail reach Charley?

When Sam reached the third level and landed in Galesburg, he became part of a hundred year old world, the year 1894, a world devoid of the modern media of communication. He had to depend only on postal system but there was no link between his old world and Charley’s present world. In order to send a mail to Charley, Sam sent it to Charley’s grandfather who still existed in the third level and the grandfather kept the mail in his stamp collection and consequently Charley received the mail.OR – Sam had no easy way to send Charley a message that the third level was no waking dream wish fulfillment but a reality. Finally the shrewd psychiatrist found a way out. He was aware of the fact that Charley’s grandfather could be alive in the 1894 Galesburg, young and of course, having a stamp collection and that this same collection was with Charley. So Sam send a first day cover to Charley’s ‘grandpa’ and the young man kept it in his collection and consequently it reached Charley.

What is role of the stamp-collection in the story?

The stamp collection is the logic behind the story. It was Charley’s favorite pastime. In fact this collection was passed on to Charley from his diseased grandfather. The most important fact about this collection is that this was the only thing that connected the old world and the new: the same thing but existing in two worlds. This collection turned out to be useful for Sam the psychiatrist friend when he attempted to convey to Charley the truth regarding the existence of the third level; It was by keeping his first day cover in Charley’s grandfather’s collection that Sam could make the same available to Charley.

How does the psychiatrist turn out to be a firm supporter of Charley and his third level?

The story The Third Level is a blend of satire and irony. Initially, when Charley told his psychiatrist friend Sam about his strange experience at the Grand Central Station, the latter dismissed it as a dream. But the same psychiatrist was a seeker of the unknown and therefore sought the truth and smartly reached the mysterious third level and believed it. Sam, a man who knew the unknown and unexplained minds of several people, could only prove the existence of the third level.

Briefly describe Charley’s strange experience in the third level?

Charley was an ordinary man, employed in New York and leading a normal life with no great tensions. He used to encounter/reach new places that were beyond the reach of the other people. One day Charley walked down to the third level of the Grand Central Station, New York. It was a totally unbelievable experience for Charley. It was a hundred year old world there. He saw old fashioned dressing, costumes and accessories used by the people there. People used string-watches, eye-shades and big sized currencies. The trains ran on steam and coaches were smaller. There were fewer ticket windows as population was less. People were more punctual than today. He saw that the news paper circulated there bore the date of 1894 and the lead story about the hundred year old America’s President Cleveland. Charley knew that the old world was much better than the present world of anxiety and worries of war and insecurity and wanted to be part of the old world. He wanted to buy two tickets for his wife and himself but couldn’t buy it because he didn’t have the old currency. Charley tried his luck another time with old currency purchased from a coin dealer but never again saw the door that lead to the third level of Grand Central Station.

Do you think Charley was really a worried man as his psychiatrist friend and the other friends believed?

No, Charley was a happy man. Even though the modern man is generally unhappy and worried, Charley appears to be quite a normal man. The day when he found out the third level, Charley was in a hurry to reach home, to meet his wife. A man who longs to get home and happy with his wife is said to be a happy man. Moreover, Charley had a good collection of stamps which he enjoyed in his free time.

Yes, Charley seems to be a worried man, an escapist and a maniac dreamer. Charley belonged to the post world war time, 1984 and anxiety and insecurity were part of everyone’s psyche. Everyone wanted to escape to a peaceful place but there was probably none. Charley, being a similar escapist, found peace by escaping into his world of stamps and unknown places in his imagination.

What do you think?

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