The Third Level Vistas English class 12 NCERT Summary and Question answers

Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

The Third Level (Jack Finney)


The story opens up with the protagonist, Charley, arguing about existence of a third level in Grand Central Station in New York City. The presidents of railroads of different cities claim that there are only two levels, but Charley insisted that he had been to a third level. Charley’s psychiatrist friend, Sam suggested that his belief in the third level is a form of escapism from the stresses and anxieties of modern life, as evidenced by his stamp collecting hobby. Charley’s wife, Louisa got mad by this suggestion, but Sam clarified that he meant that many people in the modern world seek ways to escape from the pressures of everyday life, which simply means that Charley’s belief in the third level could be a product of his subconscious desire to escape from reality.  

However, Charley denies this by saying that it’s his grandfather who started collecting stamps and his time was pretty good further he added that Roosevelt also used to collect stamps too. Then he started telling about how he discovered the third level, one summer night he worked late at the office and he was simply trying to get home to his wife as early as possible when he stumbled upon the third level of Grand Central Station. 

Then Charley describes his experience of getting lost in Grand Central Station, a large transportation hub in New York City. Charley entered the station from Vanderbilt Avenue and descends two levels to the area where the subway trains were located. While trying to find the subway, he accidentally took a wrong turn and got lost. Charley then described how it’s easy to get lost in the station, even though he’d been there many times before. He shared a couple of stories about accidentally finding himself in unexpected places while exploring the station.

He added that Grand Central Station is growing like a tree, with new passageways and staircases appearing all the time. He imagines there could be secret tunnels under the city, leading to other popular destinations like Times Square or Central Park. Charley wonders if these tunnels were built by people seeking to escape from the pressures of everyday life, as Grand Central has been for many people over the years. He suggests that the tunnel he got lost in may have been built for this purpose, but he never shares this idea with his psychiatrist friend.

As he walked down a corridor that began to angle left and slope downward, he heard the sound of people talking and an open space ahead. He followed the corridor, turned sharply left, and descended a short flight of stairs before emerging onto the third level. At first, he mistook the level for the second, but he quickly realized that something was different. The room was smaller, the ticket windows and train gates were fewer in number, and the information booth in the centre was old-fashioned. The lights were dim and flickering because they were open-flame gaslights, and there were brass spittoons on the floor. The people in the station were dressed like they were from the late 1800s. A woman walked in wearing a dress with leg-of-mutton sleeves and high-buttoned shoes, and the narrator caught a glimpse of a small locomotive on the tracks. 

To make sure that he is in a time period over a century ago. He confirmed this by seeing a newspaper with a date from 1894 and realizing that everyone around him is dressed in clothing from that era. Excited by the possibility of being able to travel to any location in the United States, he decided to purchase tickets to Galesburg, Illinois, which a wonderful town with big old frame houses, huge lawns, and tremendous trees. He longs to be transported back to this time, where he imagines peaceful summer evenings with fireflies and a world without the wars that would occur in the coming years.

He went to buy two coach tickets to Galesburg, Illinois; one for himself and the other for his wife, with new- style bills, which lead the clerk to suspect him of fraud. Charley got anxious and left without buying the tickets, and the next day he bought old-style currency to use for time travel. He paid a premium for the old money, and even though it buys less than modern currency, he doesn’t care since the cost of living in 1894 was much lower. However, he was unable to find the corridor that leads to the third level at Grand Central Station again, despite trying multiple times. It worried his wife and the psychiatrist Sam who told him that he was hallucinating in order to take refuge from reality and miseries of the modern world which is full of worry. In the meantime Sam disappeared, and Charley and his wife Louisa became worried about his whereabouts. One day, Charley discoverd a first-day cover among his old stamp collection, which wasn’t not blank, and it was sent to his grandfather in Galesburg in 1894. The note was from Sam, who confirmed that he has found the third level and is living in Galesburg, Illinois, in 1894. Charley discoverd that Sam has bought old-style currency worth $800 and suspected that he may have started a hay, feed, and grain business in the past. 

The story ” third level” is full of suspense an intrigue as the characters try to unravel the mystery of the third level. It’s not confirmed anywhere in the story that whether it was all made up in Charley’s head or a real time- travel. At last the disappearance of Sam remained mystery. 

Character sketches 


The protagonist of the story, Charley, is a character who embodies the struggles and desires of many individuals in modern society. He is depicted as a victim of stress, insecurity, and fear, and his longing for a simpler life is a common sentiment shared by many people in today’s world. His interest in stamp collecting, while initially seen as a fulfilling and productive hobby, is eventually revealed to be a temporary escape from reality, highlighting the temporary nature of relief found in distractions.

Charley’s desire to escape the harsh realities of modern life is further emphasized by his yearning for a past era that exudes peace and tranquility. His romanticization of his grandfather’s time illustrates the yearning for simplicity and the tendency to view the past as a time of greater ease and contentment, free from the stresses of modern-day living.

Charley’s imaginative nature is also an essential aspect of his character, as it provides him with a means of escape from his reality. His journey to the non-existent third level at Central Station is a reflection of his desire to find a place of respite from his everyday life. However, his inability to find the third level again highlights the fleeting nature of escape and the inability to maintain an imagined paradise.

Overall, Charley is a relatable character who represents the desires and struggles of many individuals in modern society. His character highlights the need for balance between the pressures of modern life and the desire for simplicity and peace, and the importance of finding healthy outlets to manage stress and anxiety.


Louisa is Charley’s wife and she is described as loving and caring towards her husband. However, she is also depicted as a simple lady who can be easily misled. When a psychiatrist suggests that Charley may be unhappy, Louisa takes it as a personal attack and becomes defensive. However, when the psychiatrist explains that the modern world is full of insecurity and fear, Louisa feels satisfied with the explanation.

When Charley confides in her about his obsession with finding the third level, Louisa becomes alarmed and advises him not to pursue it any further. She is also worried about Charley’s involvement in exchanging old currency with new currency and warns him to stop. Despite her concerns, Louisa joins Charley in his quest to find the third level after Sam’s disappearance.

Overall, Louisa seems to be a supportive and caring spouse, but she is also cautious and concerned about her husband’s wellbeing. Her reaction to the psychiatrist’s observation and her advice to Charley suggest that she is not easily swayed by external influences, but she also has her limits when it comes to her husband’s safety and happiness.

Sam Weiner

He is a psychiatrist by profession and a friend of Charley, the protagonist of the story. When Charley shares his experience of visiting the third level of Grand Central Station, Sam offers his professional opinion that it is a waking dream wish fulfillment. He suggests that Charley is looking for a way to escape from the pressures and insecurities of modern life. Sam sees Charley’s stamp collecting hobby as a temporary refuge from reality.

Despite his profession, Sam believes in keeping a clear line between his professional and personal life. He does not want to mix his work with his friendship. However, he is intrigued by Charley’s description of Galesburg, Illinois, and feels the pull towards the peaceful world of the past.

In the end, Sam discovers the third level of Grand Central and sends a letter to Charley and Louisa advising them to keep searching for it as it is worth finding. According to Charley’s speculation, Sam may have decided to stay in the past and set up his little hay feed and grain business, as psychiatrists would not have been needed in Galesburg of 1894.

Sam’s character represents the conflict between modernity and nostalgia. He, like Charley, is affected by the pulls and pressures of modern life and feels the need to escape to a simpler, more peaceful world. However, as a professional, he understands the importance of facing reality and dealing with one’s problems instead of simply escaping them.

The Third Level Imp Questions and Answers

Do you think that the third level was a medium of escape for Charley? Why?

In the story, “The Third Level,” the third level of Grand Central Station serves as a means of escape for Charley from the modern world that is full of problems. He becomes obsessed with the idea of travelling back in time to the 1890s through this level, which he believes is a real place. However, he is unable to find it again in the present day, leading him to believe that it is a magical place accessible only to those who truly believe in it. Charley’s friend, a psychiatrist, believes that his obsession with the third level is a form of escapism from the real world and tries to convince him that it is a product of his imagination. However, Charley remains convinced that the third level is real and continues to seek it out as a means of escape from his troubles.

What do you infer from Sam’s letter to Charley?

The letter addressed to Charley was mailed to his grandfather in 1894 and was found among his grandfather’s collection. The letter contains exactly what Charley had thought about Galesburg in the 1890s. It is a mystery that blurs the line between reality and fantasy and needs further exploration. The letter could prove that Sam had reached Galesburg in 1984, or it could be another instance of his hallucination or dreams of escapism. The letter reflects Sam’s urge to keep looking for the third level.

‘The modern world is full of insecurity, fear, war,
worry and stress.’ What are the ways in which we attempt to overcome them?

The modern world can cause anxiety and insecurity, but we can overcome these feelings by engaging in practical and beneficial activities. This includes cultivating hobbies, spending time with loved ones, traveling, exercising, and reading books. Joining hobby classes, attending social events, and interacting on social media can also help. Simple activities such as listening to music, playing with pets, and going to parks can also help to reduce stress, boredom, and insecurity.

Do you see an intersection of time and space in the story?

The first two levels of Grand Central Station exist in the present time while the third level exists in the 1890s, creating a temporal intersection. Charley and his wife live in the present but Charley rushes to get old currency to buy tickets to go back to the Galesburg of 1894, adding to this temporal intersection. The architecture, clothing, and newspapers at the third level also differ from those of the first two levels, further emphasizing the intersection. Lastly, the letter that was mailed to Charley’s grandfather highlights the intersection of time and space because the sender and receiver belong to different times, creating a connection between the present and the past.

Apparent illogicality sometimes turns out to be a futuristic projection? Discuss.

Apparent illogicality can sometimes lead to futuristic inventions. Examples include the invention of the airplane and the telephone, which were once thought to be impossible but are now everyday realities. Sometimes seemingly illogical fantasies can turn out to be revolutionary and change the future of mankind. The story gives the concept of railway stations fitted with time-machine devices, allowing travel between eras,  which might become possible in future.

Philately helps keep the past alive. Discuss other ways in which this is done. What do you think ofthe human tendency to constantly move between the past, the present and the future?

The various ways of keeping the past alive, besides philately are collecting historical artefacts, paintings, and inscriptions, reading books written in different eras, watching documentaries, following cultural traditions, and preserving memories through videos, photographs, and audio collections. Reviving old monuments and buildings can also promote tourism and offer a learning opportunity for visitors.
The ability to learn from the past, plan for the future, and act in the present is an intellectual gift. It provides an example of how an individual can use past experience results to identify areas of weakness and make a strategy to improve their performance in the future. The tendency to learn from the past helps individuals to make better decisions and grow personally.

You have read ‘Adventure’ by Jayant Narlikar in
Hornbill Class XI. Compare the interweaving of fantasy and reality in the two stories.

Magic realism is a literary style that combines elements of the real world with elements of fantasy or magic. Both of the stories mentioned have elements of magic realism because they blend the boundaries between reality and fantasy in a unique way.
In “The Adventure,” the main character, Professor Gaitonde,who falls into a coma and enters another world in Indian history where the Marathas win a decisive victory. This alternate history brings about changes and reforms that are different from what actually happened in the real world. The story intermixes elements of fantasy with reality, as it explores the consequences of this alternative outcome.
Similarly, in “The Third Level,” the main character, Charley, becomes convinced that there is a third level at the Grand Central Station, despite only two ever having been built. His belief in this other world becomes so strong that he even exchanges his money for the old currency to travel to the world of the 1890s. His obsession with this alternate reality leads him to experience hallucinations, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy.
Both stories illustrate the way that magic realism can be used to explore the boundaries between reality and fantasy, creating a unique parallelism between the two. By blending the real and the fantastic, the stories offer a new perspective on the world around us and challenge our understanding of what is possible.

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