The story The Third Level was written by Jack Finney with themes of escapism and time travel fantasy. The plot revolves around a young frustrated man in his early thirties who seems to have it all, a loving wife and a corporate job, but is still deeply unsatisfied with his life because he finds it difficult to find peace and comfort in the hectic drill of the modern world. The clever narrative of Charley, a young New Yorker begins one night when he hopes to return home quickly to his wife after a long and tiring day at work. On this night the unthinkable happens but Charley relates it in a manner so natural as if it had been the solution to all his problems all along. While narrating the incident, the protagonist keeps shifting in his narration from the past to the present and back again. As he talks about how he skipped the bus to save time and catch a train on the subway from the Grand Central Station, his mind drifts to how he had lost himself countless times before, walking through the hidden passageways and side tunnels of the underground railway system which hold a compelling power of curiosity over him. It is important to understand the character of Charley in this story to determine the existential problems of modern-day society.
The Third Level Short Questions and Answers: Solved
1. Do you think that the third level was a medium of escape for Charley? Why?
According to his own statements, Charley had experienced mysterious getaways through the long and dingy passageways of the Grand Central Station many times and had imagined the secret passageways like the branches of a tree that expanded and led on to some other place like the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel. These ideas were already rooted in the subconscious of his mind when he landed one fateful night on the third level.
The description of the third level and the people who occupied the space all seemed to be from a different time and era. Their clothes and mannerisms indicated that they belonged in the eighteen-nineties of America. This was ideal for Charley because the ticket expenses were much less during that time and it dawned upon him that he and his wife could travel to any place at cheap rates. The thought of such freedom was exhilarating for him and the first place he wanted to visit was his hometown in Galesburg which reminded him of a peaceful and uncomplicated time before the war. The hidden desires of the narrator and the manifestations he witnesses are clear indicators that the third level was a figment of his imagination created by Charley as a medium of escape.
2. What do you infer from Sam’s letter to Charley?
The letter from Sam infers that Charley’s magical experience was real and apparently clears all doubts that the third level actually does exist and offers a life back in time which is an alluring escape from the struggles of modern dilemmas. However, the convenient location of the letter, its sudden discovery by Charley just when the hope of finding the third level again seemed impossible combined with the encouraging contents of the letter tells us that it’s a part of his imagination. It also infers that the logical and sensible doctor of psychology Sam could also be persuaded to indulge in escapist fantasy as we are all looking for relief from the pains of reality.
3. The modern world is full of insecurity, fear, war, worry and stress.’ What are the ways in which we attempt to overcome them?
Through the narration, we as readers get a glimpse of the protagonist’s life as he struggles with the monotonous dull drill of corporate work where one day melts into another in a series of endless routine. He is bored and stressed by the expectations and dreary reality of modern life and longs for the slow pace of his childhood spent in the charming town of Galesburg, Illinois. This predicament that Charley found himself in was mostly inward and existed in his subconscious mind and therefore it was trying to manifest itself through his fantasy and imagination. It was this desperate inner drive that made him see things that may or may not have existed.
All human beings are guilty of a little delusion just like Charley to allow our minds a bit of respite from the frightening reality which inspires our deep-seated insecurities. In such circumstances, our mind creates illusions as a survival tactic to defend and distract us from existential issues. Charley’s obsession with his vintage collection of stamps is one such distraction or as we call it in the modern world, a hobby.
4. Do you see an intersection of time and space in the story?
Yes, in the story The Third Level, the concepts of time and space intersect to create a convenient illusion for Charley. The two levels of Grand Central Station separate from the strange new appearance of the third level represents the distinction between the past and the present. Time is altered in the third level as this space shows characters from a previous generation. The clothing of the people, their numbers, their speech all allude to the past. Even the newspaper being sold on the platform shows a date of 11th June 1894 and this prominently highlights the intersection of time and space as we see a man of the twentieth century reading a fresh publication of a newspaper cover from the past century. The letter sent by Sam to Charley further converges the concepts of time and space and blurs reality.
5. Apparent illogicality sometimes turns out to be a futuristic projection? Discuss.
Yes, it is quite possible that an apparently illogical event can turn out to be a futuristic projection as illustrated in this story by Jack Finney. The main argument is that Charley was disillusioned and he imagined things from his past to spark excitement in his present. However, this is only one aspect of the story as there are other perspectives of time and space to be considered apart from the complex psychology of the human mind. Science and development have proved to us, time and again, that there are theories and concepts that exist beyond our present understanding and we can have access to greater knowledge only if we stop disbelieving every strange occurrence.
The Third Level Long Questions and Answers: Solved
1. 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?
Philately is the practice of revisiting history by collecting postal stamps of all ages. Other ways to achieve an insight into the past could be a re-enactment of fantasies that speak of a bygone era.
In the story The Third Level written by Jack Finney, the main character Charley encounters a strange event which connects the past with the present to show a desirable alternate future. His worried wife urges him to speak to his friend and psychologist, Sam, who tries to help him by investigating the matter. At first, he dismisses Charley’s claims as illusions resulting from stress and lack of rest but later he himself disappears without a trace while investigating the truth. This raises Charley’s suspicion about his friend’s whereabouts and his instincts are confirmed when he receives a letter from Sam. The next time he hears from Sam is through a letter he finds in one of his oldest first-day cover envelopes.
The description of the stamp upon the letter indicates that it belonged to Charley’s grandad who had put it in his collection years ago. This also indicates that the letter had been posted in previous time but the contents of the letter referred to Charley in the present. In the letter, dated July 18, 1894, Sam boasts of his pleasant new life in Galesburg to which he had travelled after having discovered the mysterious third level. He had already spent two weeks in the past when he wrote him the letter and he was surrounded by good hospitable people who enjoyed piano music and lemonade just like in the old times! The human tendencies will always urge us to desire the familiarity of the past and worry about the future as we are never content with our present.
2. You have read ‘Adventure’ by Jayant Narlikar in Hornbill Class XI. Compare the interweaving of fantasy and reality in the two stories.
In the story The Third Level written by Jack Finney, the main protagonist Charley finds himself on a third level after he unwittingly follows one of the hidden underground tunnels of the Grand Central Station. At first, it was an accident, as he ducked under one of the archways and found himself lost, but he never turned back the way he came and his curiosity led him on to the third level which according to all responsible authorities and his own sensibilities had never existed before. To prove that he was speaking the truth and was not simply delusional, as his wife and psychologist believed him to be, he checks with the presidents of the New York Central and the New York, New Haven and Hartford railroads who all swear that only two levels exist and not three. Nevertheless, Charley sticks to his notion that the third level is there because he had seen it with his own eyes. Similar arguments regarding time, space and dimension have been made in Jayant Narlikar’s ‘Adventure’ where he justifies his opinion with scientific logic that many worlds exist simultaneously on different dimensions even though they appear to be separated by time.