Other critics such as Hawkins argue that whilst some of Conrad’s racist characterization of the natives is undeniable, the author is more overtly critical of Europeans than he is of Africans, adding that the characterization and emphasis on “brutes” (Conrad, 1899) and their “rolling eyes” (Conrad, 1899) acts as an attack on imperialism. Metaphysically speaking, white men’s hearts are not turned black by Africans, as they already carry the corruption of Europe within them. Despite Kurtz’s savagery, Marlow’s frequent recognition and re-telling of the strongly disturbing imagery of the natives’ poor health implies that Kurtz’s disregard for them is not innate, but learned:
Six black men advanced in a file, toiling up the path…Black rags were wound round their loins…I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar on his neck…All their meagre breasts panted together, the violently dilated nostrils quivered, the eyes stared stonily uphill. They passed me within six inches, without a glance, with that complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages.
Complying with Hawkins’ criticism, Marlow’s use of similes such as “like knots in a rope” (Achebe, 1977) and a semantic field of butchery, such as “loins”, “rib” and “limbs”, suggesting that the “deathlike indifference of unhappy savages” are destined to being brutally slaughtered. This awareness of the brutality of the company’s treatment of the natives juxtaposes with Kurtz’s ignorance towards them and further suggests that it is the nature of Marlow and Kurtz’s occupations and institutional duty as workers for the Belgian trading company. Hawkins suggests that Conrad may be seen as racist in a modern context, but that during his time Conrad may have been a progressive thinker who criticized colonialism, and deplored the capitalist conquest of colonialism that unmitigated greed in high ideals – highlighting the corrupt nature of the project.