Writing 101’s assignment number 5 conjures Hemingway.
“The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway
In the end, only the writer knows what their symbolism truly represents. But what others guess it to represent is also part of the effect of any written piece, intended or not. I often introduce weather in my stories. It’s generally not symbolic, but I could understand if someone inferred such intent because weather often effects the mood of a scene. It’s not a huge leap from mood to meaning. At the least, they intertwine in context and change each other. If a thread sewn into the pattern of a blossom is pulled from a quilt, is it still a flower, or just a thread without guidance?
Only Hemingway knew if his sharks represented anything more than sharks, and he took that secret to the grave, but “The Old Man and the Sea” wouldn’t have been a classic without them.