In the novel Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo has already achieved a great deal of acclaim amongst the village of Umuofia because he is considered one of the best wrestlers: he has bested another wrestler, Amalinze the Cat, nicknamed because he never landed on his back before wrestling Okonkwo. While this occurred twenty years prior to the events of the novel, this is a major foundation of Okonkwo's good social standing.
Additionally, Okonkwo is described as a wealthy farmer with two barns full of yams, and he has just married a third wife. Furthermore, Okonkwo is clearly an accomplished warrior, having won renown and glory in two separate wars between the tribal villages. As such, Okonkwo is described as "one of the greatest men of his time," since these achievements are revered in Umuofia. The author says that Okonkwo has "washed his hands," a metaphor for working to success, and as a result now eats with kings and elders.
Part of Okonkwo's good standing represents a contrast to his own father, the deceased Unoka, who was a lazy man who never worked hard, never saved for the future, and died with many debts. Okonkwo's drive to be a respected man in Umuofia is a reflection of his dislike of his father and his drive to be a better member of Umuofia's small society.