Just like in the last 2 books that we have examined (Judges and Ruth), currently there was no real leader in Israel. The last judge to have risen in Israel had been the longhaired Nazarite named Sam; Samson. This chapter introduces to us the next (and last) judge who would also be a longhaired Nazarite named Sam; Samuel - see I Samuel 1:11. Samuel wasn't just a judge though. Samuel would also become a great prophet of God and would be the one to anoint the first 2 kings of Israel (Saul and David).
This is the story of Samuel's conception and dedication. Samuel's father had 2 wives. Prior to Samuel's birth, his mother had been childless. And, his step mother had been cruel in her mockery of Samuel's mother-to-be. It's easy to see why Samuel, in writing this book, called his stepmother the "adversary" of his own mother. My, what a dysfunctional home he would have had to endure if he hadn't been reared at the tabernacle of God.
Now, perhaps you have noticed the great emphasis on Mount Ephraim in the Bible in the passages leading up to this point. This was Samuel's hometown area. If Samuel was the author/editor of Judges, Ruth and the 2 books bearing his own name, then (from a human standpoint) the emphasis on the events of that region would certainly make a lot of sense. That and many other elements of this chapter seem incidental, unless you are familiar with the overall context of this little story. Something very significant was indeed happening. God was preparing the nation for a developmental mountain peak in their history... a political and spiritual climax that they would never forget.