How is the ending of "The Third Level" by Jack Finney ironic?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As in “The Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets,” “The Third Level” has undertones of irony.  The story is about a man who wants to find an idyllic life in 1894 on the Third Level of Grand Central Station, but his psychiatrist tells him he is just unhappy with modern life—and then his psychiatrist goes to the Third Level and travels back to 1894, where he is happy.

Charley is a an ordinary, not-quite middle aged man.  When he tells his psychiatrist and friends that he has found the third level of Grand Central Station, they think he imagined it because he is “unhappy” with “modern world is full of insecurity, fear, war, worry, and all the rest of it” (p. 1).  They say this is also why he collects stamps.  Charley disagrees.

And maybe--because for so many people through the years Grand Central has been an exit, a way of escape--maybe that's how the tunnel I got into . . . but I never told my psychiatrist friend about that idea. (p. 1)

But everything is old-fashioned, and the newspaper is from 1894.  Since two tickets would be so cheap back then, he decides to buy two tickets to Galesburg, Illinois, a “wonderful town.”  It was an idyllic world, to Charley.

And in 1894, summer evenings were twice as long, and people sat out on their lawns, the men smoking cigars and talking quietly, the women waving palm-leaf fans, with the fireflies all around, in a peaceful world.  (ch 1)

But the paper boy won’t take his money, so he withdraws his savings from the bank and purchases old currency.  When he tries to find the third level again, he can’t.  His friend Sam disappears, and he knows he’s in the third level.  The irony is that Sam is his psychiatrist, the one he has been telling about the third level, the one who tells him it doesn’t exist.

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Being a psychaitrist Sam should help Charley to make him understand the harsh and cruel realities of life.He should tell him about the practical life and not to wonder his mind in imaginistic ideas.

It's really an irony because the man to him he is telling the story is his pychaitrist friend named Sam who sent him the letter of his enjoyments on the third level.

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