The Third Level by Jack Finney Summary

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  • 0:04 Time Travel
  • 0:49 Finding the Third Level
  • 2:22 The Third Level
  • 3:27 The Next Day
  • 4:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Where would you go if you could go anywhere? In this summary of the short story, 'The Third Level,' by Jack Finney, we find out where main character, Charley, would go, and who beats him there.

Time Travel

If you could travel through time and visit any period of history, where would you go? Maybe you'd stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial while Martin Luther King delivers his ''I Have a Dream'' speech. Perhaps you'd choose to attend the first World Series game between the Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates. You might even opt to go back to 1969 and watch the first American land on the moon.

For the man at the center of 'The Third Level,' a short story by Jack Finney, he knows what he would pick: Galesburg, Illinois, 1894. That's odd, right? Why would someone select that particular date and that particular place? Find our why our main character, Charley, tries to travel through time after finding the mysterious third level at Grand Central Station.

Finding 'The Third Level'

Charley was an ordinary man. We know so because he tells us. He's 31 years old and is wearing a tan gabardine suit when he stumbles onto a secret. He looks, the author tells us, like ''a dozen men'' he passes on the sidewalk. And, to hear Charley tell it, he's just trying to get home to his wife, Louisa.

Charley begins the story by telling us he knows there is a third level to the great Grand Central Station, even though the presidents of the major railroads would tell us otherwise. Lest you think him crazy, he tells us he's already spoken to a psychiatrist friend named Sam about his findings. Sam chalks up Charley's experience to a ''waking-dream wish fulfillment.'' Charley, he says, is simply unhappy and looking for an escape from reality. Sam tells Charley that even his hobby of stamp collecting is a ''temporary refuge from reality.'' Charley is certain that's a mistake; after all, his grandfather started that stamp collection in a day and age that was already nice and peaceful, with no reason to want to escape.

One Night at Grand Central

Heading home late one summer evening, Charley elects to take the subway home rather than the bus. He heads to Grand Central, where he promptly gets lost. It's an easy thing to do, the author tells us. Charley is always bumping into ''new doorways and stairs and corridors.'' One time, he even stumbled into the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel by accident. Charley continues wandering down this lonely corridor until he is abruptly dumped back out onto the station's third level. The third level, it seems, has transported Charley back in time.

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