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The Third Level Summary in English by Jack Finney

The Third Level by Jack Finney About the Author

Jack Finney (2 October 1911-16 November 1995) was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and given the name John Finney. His father died when he was three years old and he was renamed Walter Braden Finney in honour of his father. Yet the nickname Jack remained with him throughout his life. He attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. His best-known works are science fiction and thrillers. Two of his novels, ‘The Body Snatchers’ and ‘Good Neighbor Sam’ became the basis of popular films.

Poet Name Jack Finney
Born 2 October 1911, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States
Died 14 November 1995, Greenbrae, California, United States
Awards World Fantasy Award—Life Achievement
Movies Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Invasion
The Third Level Summary by Jack Finney
The Third Level Summary by Jack Finney

The Third Level Introduction to the Chapter

The Grand Central Station of New York has two levels. But Charley, the thirty-one year old protagonist of the story, a city dweller, declares that there are three and claims to have been there as well.

The Third Level Theme

The story, ‘The Third Level’ clearly explores the science fiction genre of ‘time travel’. Jack Finney, the recipient of the World Fantasy Award, interweaves fantasy with reality in his projection of time travel. Charley, the protagonist wishes to be transported to the third level, the world of Galesburg, Illinois, 1894, which is supposed to be a much happier and quieter place to be in.

The story also dwells on the theme of escapism as a psychological refuge from the grim realities of the present day world along with a desire to stay with the past—a desire that Charley’s wife Louisa does not contest. Sam has also happily escaped, with no desire to return to his old profession.

The story exposes the vulnerable side of the common man. Surrounded by myriad problems, we humans, sometimes experience a craving for peace and serenity, and look for possible escapes. This story is about time intersection, an illusion, a kind of long dream that we do not experience during our sleep.

The Third Level Summary in English

“The Third Level”, written by Jack Finney blends fiction with reality. It is also about a man’s wish to escape from the harsh realities of present life. Charley, though he does not admit it, wants to go into the past as he is unhappy. He is unhappy with his wife. In fact, he is as unhappy as he finds the world in which he lives full of hurry, tension and war. His psychiatrist friend, Sam tells his stamp collecting also as an escape into the past.

There were only two levels at Grand Central Station. However, Charley found a third one. It was by chance. Many a times, he was lost there. He was always discovering new doorways, new corridors and new tunnels. He had begun to think that the Grand Central was always pushing out tunnels and new corridors like roots of a huge tree.

There he lost his way and found himself on the third level. This level was entirely different and olcl-fashioned. The locomotive, the brass spittoons and the naked gaslights belonged to the previous century. He desired to escape to Galesburg, the town of his dreams. However, he was nearly arrested. The money he gave to pay the fare was different from that in use those days. The booking clerk thought that he was cheating. Charley, thus, ran into the present. He never found the third level again. However, his psychiatrist friend, who did not believe that the third level existed, found it and escaped to Galesburg of 1894.

The Third Level Main Characters in the Chapter


Charley is a thirty-one year old man in a tan gabardine suit and a straw hat. One night, on his way back from work, he decides to take the subway at the Grand Central Station, which as everyone knows, has two levels. Preoccupied and in a hurry, Charley discovers an unknown exit that takes him through a long corridor, into the third level.

Here, there were fewer ticket windows, the man at the booth wore green eye-shades, the lights were open-flame gas lights, and women wore old-fashioned, fully covered dresses. The newspaper, ‘The World’, was dated June 11,1894. Charley knows that from there, the third level of the Grand Central, he could go to anywhere in the United States, 1984. He decides to buy two tickets to Galesburg, Illinois, for his wife Louisa and himself from the ticket window in the third level.

Galesburg, with its big old houses, huge lawns and tremendous trees represents an idyllic world to Charley, with the World War II still forty years into the future. However, the clerk at the window refuses the currency Charley offers. Charley leaves, deciding to return the next day, after converting all his savings into old-style currency. But Charley has never again found the third level.

When Charley tells his psychiatrist friend, Sam Weiner about this, Sam tells him that it was “a waking dream wish fulfilment” as Charley was “unhappy” in the modern world with its insecurities and fears, and just wanted to escape. Charley never again found the corridor that led to the third level at the Grand Central. Ironically, his friend Sam, the psychiatrist, disappeared, only to reach Galesburg, Illinois, in 1894.


Sam Weiner is Charley’s friend, and psychiatrist, and the next most important character in the story. He concludes that the third level is a figment of Charley’s imagination, induced by the pressures of modern living.

When Charley fails to find the third level of the Grand Central Station, his wife Louisa is worried for him and tells him to stop looking for it. But after sometime, both start looking for it because they find proof that the third level exists. Charley’s friend, Sam Weiner disappears. A first-day cover that Charley discovers in his collection, is signed by Sam and is from Galesburg, Illinois, dated July 18,1894. Charley subsequently discovers that Sam had bought eight- hundred dollars worth of old-style currency and moved to Galesburg, Illinois, in 1894. He had . set up a hay, feed and grain business as he had always said that it is what he really wished to do. Clearly, he could not go back to his old business—psychiatry—in Galesburg, Illinois, in 1894.


Charley’s wife Louisa was initially angry with Sam’s suggestion that Charley was unhappy, ‘ when Charley tells him about his sojourn to the third level of the Grand Central Station in New York. Then Sam explains that it is not marital unhappiness, but dissatisfaction and discontent with modern day living with its insecurity, fear, war and worry. To escape from these pressures, Charley’s mind had sought refuge in the idyllic world of the third level. Louisa’s conviction in the existence of the third level is affirmed only when she sees the note sent by Sam himself, from Galesburg, Illinois, dated July 18, 1894. Since then, Louisa has been actively involved in looking for the third level, along with her husband, Charley.

The Third Level Summary Questions and Answers

Question 1.
Why did Charley meet a psychiatrist?
Charley met a psychiatrist, since he was in a dilemma. He felt sure that he had been on the third level of the Grand Central Station, which everyone knows has only two levels. Even the Presidents of the railroads would swear on a stack of timetables that there were only two levels.

Question 2.
What was the psychiatrist’s diagnosis?
The psychiatrist said that Charlie was unhappy. The modern world, full of insecurity, fear, war and worry oppressed him, and he just wanted to escape.

Question 3.
What proof did the psychiatrist provide?
Charley’s psychiatrist and his friends said that his stamp-collecting was an indication of his desire to seek “a temporary refuge from reality”, as was his collection of first-day covers.

Question 4.
What was Charley’s argument when the psychiatrist told him that the stamp collection was a temporary refuge from reality?
Charley argued that his grandfather lived in nice and peaceful times, yet he was the one . who had started the stamp collection. He did not need any “temporary refuge from reality”. He added that President Roosevelt collected stamps too.

Question 5.
How does Charley describe Galesburg, Illinois, 1894?
Charley describes it as a wonderful town with a leisurely way of life with big old frame houses, huge lawns, tremendous trees and a peaceful and tranquil world. During summer evenings, people sat in their lawns, with men smoking cigars and women waving palm-leaf fans. The first World War was twenty years away and the second World War was forty years into the future.

Question 6.
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. The envelope is called a first-day cover. They are never opened. You just put a blank paper inside the envelope.

Question 7.
What role does the first-day cover play in the story?
One night,while fussing with his stamp collection, Charley comes across a first-day cover that should not have been there. It had been mailed to his grandfather at his home in Galesburg in July 18, 1894. However, instead of a blank paper, it contained a letter for Charley from Sam. It urged him to come back to the third level with Louisa, and keep looking for it till he found it.

Question 8.
What was the content of the note that Sam wrote to Charley?
Sam said that he had found the third level, that he had already been there for two weeks, that life was peaceful, calm and tranquil. He urged Charley and Louisa to go back to the third level and keep looking for it till they found it.

Question 9.
How was Charley often lost on the Grand Central Station?
Cllarley had went to the Grand Central Station hundreds of times. However, at times, he was always lost in new doorways and corridors. Once, he entered a tunnel and came out in the lobby of a hotel. Another time, he reached in an office building.

Question 10.
How did Charley compare the Grand Central to a huge tree? Why?
Charley always found new tunnels and staircase at the Grand Central. He began to suspect that Grand Central was like a huge tree. It used to push out new corridors and tunnels like the roots of a tree.