CBSE Class 12 English - The Third Level
About the Author: Walter Braden Jack Finney was an American author who was best known for his science fictions and thrillers. His greatest success came through his science fiction novel “Time and Again” that involved the theme of ‘time travel’. He has experimented with this theme in his various short stories among which lies ‘The Third Level’.
The Theme of the story:
The narrative oscillates twice between the past and the present, therefore, the prime theme of the story is time travel. However escapism is another significant theme of the story as the protagonist Charlie wishes to escape into a world (along with his wife) that is away from his grim realities and a happier place to dwell in, that is in the year 1894 much before the first and second world war. This is a reflection of the fact that life in the earlier times was much happier and the people in that time weren’t anxious or fearful, unlike his present times. Charlie not only transcends the boundaries of time and space but also of reality and imagination.
The narrator of the story, Charlie is well aware and assured of the fact that Grand Central Station, New York has only two stations. However, he is thrilled by his experience of finding the third level as well! He describes in detail about the setting of this third level which clearly didn’t seem that of the present times. There were open flames gaslights, brass spittoons, people too were dressed differently like “the man wore a derby hat, a black four buttoned suit with tiny lapels and he had a big black handlebar mustache”.
Women wore mutton sleeves and there were certain other things that he noticed which were quite obsolete or misfits for the present years. He even got a glimpse of a locomotive or a vehicle of Currier and Ives.
He is astounded to find himself in the past and to get a reassurance he looks at the newspaper ‘The World” which was dated 11th June 1894 and it was now all of his doubts were put to an end as he knew that publication of the newspaper The World had stopped way earlier.
Along with his wife Louisa, he wanted to stay in the world he discovered and therefore he went to the ticket counter to ask for two tickets to Galesburg, Illinois where he could stay with his wife( far away from the anxious and fearful world of the present).
However, as astounded as he was upon looking everyone and everything, so were the people around him by noticing him; like the man at the ticket counter noticed how differently was he dressed.
Though he could not buy the tickets as he did not have the running currency of that time, he decided to go back, exchange the new currency for the old one and then return to the third level with his wife Louisa. After returning back and getting his currency exchanged he tried to find The Third Level but it was not found.
Nonetheless, Charlie told all this to his wife and she got worried about him and eventually, he had to stop looking for the Third Level. His psychiatrist friend Sam disappeared all of the sudden and nobody knew about his whereabouts.
One night while he was fussing with his stamp collection Charlie found a ‘first day cover’ (the mailed envelopes with a blank page inside that the stamp collectors mail to themselves when a new stamp is issued, which has a postmark that proves the date) that was addressed to his grandfather in Galesburg which was dated July 18, 1894.
The letter in the first-day cover was not blank and had something written on it, this turned out to be a letter signed by his friend Sam! Sam wrote in the letter that he had managed to find The Third Level and he is happy there and wanted Charlie to keep looking for it as it was worth it. Charlie went to the stamp and coin store and figured out that Sam bought eight hundred dollars worth of old-style currency.
This was astonishing for Charlie as Sam himself referred this as a ‘waking dream wish fulfillment’ which Charlie used to escape his unhappy present and now he himself chose to become a part of this hunky-dory world that was situated in past!